Issues in Science and Technology

A quarterly journal of the National Academy of Science focused on discussion of public policy related to science, engineering, and medicine. Provides a forum researchers, government officials, business leaders, and others concerned with public policy to s

Articles from Vol. 20, No. 1, Fall

A House with No Foundation: Forensic Science Needs to Build a Base Rigorous Research to Establish Its Reliability
Many of the forensic techniques used in courtroom proceedings, such as hair analysis, fingerprinting, the polygraph, and ballistics, rest on a foundation of very weak science, and virtually no rigorous research to strengthen this foundation is being...
Assessing Forensic Science: The Supreme Court Has Clarified the Standards for Expert Testimony. Now the Forensic Sciences Must Demonstrate That They Make the Grade
In Issues' Summer 2002 issue, we had the opportunity to introduce this journal's readers to several topics that raise complex questions at the intersection of science and the law. That issue dealt with a trio of recent Supreme Court rulings (Daubert,...
Better Rules for Biotech Research
John D. Steinbruner and Elisa D. Harris ("Controlling Dangerous Pathogens," Issues, Spring 2003) capture well an issue that the scientific and national security communities are increasingly grappling with: the risk that fundamental biological research...
Big R&D Spending Increases Slated for Defense, Homeland Security
Congress appears poised to substantially increase overall R&D spending for fiscal year (FY) 2004. However, virtually all of the increases would go for defense, homeland security, and health spending. As of the August congressional recess, the...
Computer Professionals in Africa
I read with interest G. Pascal Zachary's article on the challenges facing Ghana and other African countries in developing an information technology sector to drive development ("A Program for Africa's Computer People," Issues, Spring 2003). Statistics...
Congress Considers Ethical, Social Impact of Nanotechnology Research
House and Senate bills promoting nanotechnology R&D have highlighted differences in Congress concerning the ethical, legal, and social implications (commonly referred to as ELSI) of the emerging technology. Nanotechnology research involves manipulating...
Crime Labs Need Improvement: The Quality of the Labs Is Criminal; Government Must Invest in Personnel and Facilities
In their examination of the criminal convictions of 62 men who were later exonerated by DNA evidence, Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Jim Dwyer concluded that a third of the cases involved "tainted or fraudulent science." Although in some cases rogue...
DOE to Compete Los Alamos National Laboratory Contract
In the wake of several years of controversy about the national weapons labs, DOE has said that for the first time, competitive bidding will be used when the contract with the University of California (UC) to manage and operate Los Alamos National Laboratory...
Federal R&D: More Balanced Support Needed
Thomas Kalil ("A Broader Vision for Government Research," Issues, Spring 2003) is correct that the missions of agencies with limited capacities to support research could be advanced significantly if Jeffersonian research programs were properly designed...
Fingerprints: Not a Gold Standard: A Few Judges Are Showing Signs of Skepticism, and It's about Time
In January 2002, Judge Louis Pollack made headlines with a surprising ruling on the admissibility of fingerprints. In United States v. Llera Plaza, the distinguished judge and former academic issued a lengthy opinion that concluded, essentially, that...
Forging a Science-Based National Forest Fire Policy: A Comprehensive Policy Should Consider All Aspects of Wildfire Management, Not Just Fuels and Fire Suppression
Large, intense forest fires, along with their causes and their consequences, have become important political and social issues. In the United States, however, there is no comprehensive policy to deal with fire and fuels and few indications that such...
GM Crop Controversies
In "Reinvigorating Genetically Modified Crops" (Issues, Spring 2003), Robert L. Paarlberg eloquently describes the political difficulties that confront the diffusion of recombinant DNA technology, or gene splicing, to agriculture in less developed...
Humanities for Policy-And a Policy for the Humanities: Scientists Have Been Asked to Demonstrate Their Value to Policymakers; Now Humanists Must Show What They Have to Offer
Since World War II, policymakers have increasingly viewed investments in knowledge as central to achieving societal goals--unless that knowledge is in the humanities. In 2003, less than 1 percent of the $100-billion investment of public resources in...
Moderate Republicans Ask Bush to Revise Stem Cell Policy
New research results have prompted moderate Republicans in the House and Senate to focus attention on the issue of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. In March, Johns Hopkins University researchers announced the discovery of a promising...
No Nonlethal Chemical Weapons
Mark Wheelis has written an article of fundamental importance ("'Nonlethal' Chemical Weapons: A Faustian Bargain," Issues, Spring 2003). He emphasises that nonlethal chemical weapons inevitably--and therefore predictably--carry a certain lethality...
Oil in the Sea: Nonpoint Pollution, Not Oil Spills, Is the Largest Source, and Reducing It Will Require Coordinated Efforts on a Number of Fronts
"When it rains, it pours"--or so a motorist caught in a sudden storm might think while sliding into another vehicle. It is not merely the reduced visibility and the frenetic behavior of drivers in the rain that foster such mishaps; the streets also...
Prime Time Science: Sometimes Fantasy Beats Reality-At Least on TV
For decades, the science community has been waiting for a popular TV program that features scientists as engaging dramatic characters and the work of science as exciting as well as intellectually rigorous. Other professionals had established themselves...
Risks of New Nukes
Michael A. Levi's points in "The Case Against New Nuclear Weapons" (Issues, Spring 2003) are well taken and his estimates generally correct, but some important additional points should be made. "This argument [that the fallout from a nuclear explosion...
Saving Scientific Advice
I share Frederick R. Anderson's concerns ("Improving Scientific Advice to Government," Issues, Spring 2003) that recent changes in the procedures used to select, convene, and operate National Research Council (NRC) and Environmental Protection Agency-Science...
Securing U.S. Radioactive Sources: Although the U.S. Government Has Stepped Up Efforts to Prevent Acts of Radiological Terrorism, Significant Gaps in Security Remain to Be Filled
The catastrophic attacks of September 11, 2001, and the anthrax mailings that took place shortly thereafter highlighted the nation's vulnerability to unconventional forms of terrorism. One type of threat that has recently received close attention from...
Sign the Mine Ban Treaty
Richard A. Matthew and Ted Gaulin get much of it right in "Time to Sign the Mine Ban Treaty" (Issues, Spring 2003) in terms of both the issues surrounding the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) and the larger context of the pulls on U.S. foreign policy between...
The Limits of the Polygraph: The Time Has Come to Be Truthful about Its Reliability and Usefulness
Developed almost a century ago, the polygraph is the most famous in a long line of techniques that have been used for detecting deception and determining truth. Indeed, for many in the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities, it has become...
Tighter Cybersecurity
Bruce Berkowitz and Robert W. Hahn ("Cybersecurity: Who's Watching the Store?" Issues, Spring 2003) give an excellent overview of the cybersecurity challenges facing the nation today. I would like to comment briefly on two of the policy options they...
University-Related Research Parks
A university-related research park is a cluster of technology-based organizations (consisting primarily of private-sector research companies but also of selected federal and state research agencies and not-for-profit research foundations) that locate...
White House Proposes Standardizing Peer Review Process
On August 29, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a draft proposal to standardize the process that federal agencies use when conducting peer review of scientific information...