Magazine article The Futurist

Keeping Leaders Up on Technology and Science: New Ideas for Helping Government Make Informed Decisions

Magazine article The Futurist

Keeping Leaders Up on Technology and Science: New Ideas for Helping Government Make Informed Decisions

Article excerpt

About World Trends & Forecasts

The trends and forecasts in this section are divided into the six categories commonly used in business planning:

Demography covers specific population groups, family composition, public-health issues, etc.

Economics includes finance, business, work and careers, and management.

Environment includes resources, ecosystems, species, and habitats.

Government includes world affairs, politics, laws, and public policy.

Society covers lifestyles, values, religion, leisure, culture, and education.

Technology includes innovations, scientific discoveries, and their impacts.

In many cases, a single trend could be discussed in several different sectors. By categorizing a trend in one sector, however, the editors intend to focus attention on a specific aspect of the trend.

This initial organization has proven helpful in understanding global complexities. Over time, readers will acquire a useful framework for thinking about the future.

Whenever the lights go out, traffic stops, or thieves steal people's identities, citizens turn to their government for solutions. But in an increasingly complex technological environment, leaders are as much in the dark as citizens are.

The U.S. Congress once had the Office of Technology Assessment to draw on for science and technology expertise and advice. But since budget cutters eliminated OTA in 1995, legislators have been without that resource. Meanwhile, critical decisions need to be made on complex issues: How much money should go into biometric security technology, antiballistic missile defense, nanotech development, or Mars exploration? How much arsenic is safe in drinking water? How do we prevent another blackout like that of August 2003?

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Congress gets much of its information from experts offering testimony at hearings; other inputs come from such informal sources as friends or former colleagues in academia or the private sector. And then there are lobbyists. In fact, the problem is not a lack of information but rather a critical lack of reliable and unbiased analysis, according to Science and Technology Advice for Congress, a collection of papers by an array of science professionals.

"Clearly, the potential sources of information on science and technology issues--from the media, the executive branch, and special interest groups--have expanded considerably" since OTA was launched in the early 1970s, note Robert Margolis of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and David Guston of Rutgers. "But one could argue that it is more difficult today than it was two and a half decades ago to sort through this information."

While OTA itself may not be brought back to life anytime soon, a new model for informing legislators on technology issues might be drawn from the OTA experience. …

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