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Public Affairs Update

  • Where Do New Scientists Go? . . . . “Interstate Migration Patterns of Recent Science & Engineering Doctorates,” a new National Science Foundation InfoBrief, attempts to answer this question using data from the 1999 academic year. This report considers mobility as a vital element of a population and labor force. The authors maintain that “[h]ow willingly families and workers … migrate from one location to another in search of opportunities for advancement or to seek additional training constitute important indicators of economic growth and development. ‘Brain drain’ and ‘brain gain’ are of interest to governmental authorities and have significant implications for support of higher education and other legislative initiatives.” The report examines the extent and pattern of migration from birth through initial postgraduate employment and focuses on U.S.-born individuals who earned their degrees from U.S. universities, one of the most highly skilled segments of the American labor force. Find the report at www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/nsf02311/fn1.

  • Elias Zerhouni Is Confirmed as NIH Head . . . . The U.S. Senate confirmed Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researcher Elias Zerhouni as the new director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on May 3. The nation’s largest bastion of basic and clinical medical research ($23-billion annually), the NIH has foundered leaderless since director Harold Varmus’ departure in fall 1999. As if the administrative catching up won’t be difficult enough, according to an editorial in the May 11 issue of The Lancet, Zerhouni “faces an enormous challenge” to ensure that recent congressional largess is spent responsibly by NIH. NIH, which is a favorite of Congress and the President (they annually compete in “lavishing” additional appropriations on the ever-growing research behemoth), is successfully on target for a planned doubling of its 1968 budget to $27 billion over five years (by FY 2003). Zerhouni says accountability will define the NIH agenda for the next year or two. In terms of catching up, Zerhouni must recruit new directors for six institutes that have lacked permanent directors for some time now. Perhaps his biggest challenge, though, will be guiding the agency “through the increasingly bitter political battles involving such biomedical advances as genetic engineering, stem cell research and cloning.” The Lancet maintains that Zerhouni “will inevitably be forced to take stands based on his understanding of the facts as well as his values, stands that may be unpopular with the President, Congress, the American people or the scientific community.” Zerhouni’s number-one priority is an acceleration of the pace of biomedical discoveries through fundamental research that leads to meeting the nation’s health care challenges. Institute directors asked him to address the issue of information lost in clinical trials due to the lack of standardization of data collection.

  • President’s Science Advisor Endorses Social Sciences . . . . John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (i.e., the President’s chief scientist) affirmed the value of the social sciences at the April Research & Development Colloquium before an audience of 300 higher education and science policy advocates who attended this American Association for the Advancement of Science event. Because of the relative rarity over the decades of the White House scientist publicly praising the merits of the social sciences, such an occurrence is always a welcome “shot of adrenaline” for social science policy advocates. Stating that “the social sciences in general have much more to offer on the difficult problems of our time than we are currently acknowledging,” Marburger asked “why we have failed … to develop and use the social sciences more effectively as a tool for public policy.” Believing the social sciences possess the necessary and sufficient ingredients that make sciences useful, he speculated that “the social sciences suffer from treating issues that are so familiar as to breed contempt.” He said that areas in which the social sciences can be especially helpful in objectively assessing and systematically improving are “management and evaluation.” In addition, he said the future of the technology of the workforce deserves social scientists’ attention because of the emerging global nature of the market of intellectual talent. Marburger stressed the need to better tap the social sciences to effectively combat terrorism and pointed to social sciences’ contribution of “structure and dimension” to the National Academy of Sciences fall 2001 meeting on terrorism.

  • Data Understate Number of Students Completing College . . . . The American Council on Education’s May report on college access and student retention, “Access and Persistence: Findings From 10 Years of Longitudinal Research on Students,” says that institutions’ retention data “greatly understate” the rate at which students actually complete their undergraduate educations. Written by Susan P. Choy of MPR Associates, Inc., a Berkeley, CA, consulting firm, the report presents findings of several earlier longitudinal studies but does not provide new data. Sample data reported by Choy include the fact that about 66 percent of students in bachelor’s-degree programs complete their studies within five years; only 40 percent of four-year college students currently follow the traditional route to a degree (i.e., enrolling immediately after high school and relying on parents’ finances and loans); 75 percent of students in four-year programs have jobs of some kind, and one in four is employed full time; and full-time workers and those who begin their education at community colleges are less likely than others to complete their degrees. Contact ACE Fulfillment Services, telephone (301) 632-6757, for a copy.