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SPIE leaders share concerns with Congress, fellow science society presidents

06 May 2009

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- SPIE President Elect Ralph James and SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs joined other scientific society leaders in talking with members of Congress and other policy drivers about science-related economic and policy concerns this week. The sessions were part of the semi-annual meeting of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP) held 2-5 May in Washington, D.C.

In one session, James asked Rep. Alan Mollohan (Dem.-W. Va.) what leaders of scientific organizations can do to strengthen the argument for increasing funding levels for science.

Mollohan said it is important that "the agencies of jurisdiction all feel your input during the budget process," and commended the CSSP for their efforts in that regard. He noted that the Congress and the administration are both very pro-science, and are receptive listeners. William Phillips, Ralph James, Xiang Zhang"Understanding that you've got friends, how do you work with friends in convincing them to do the right thing?" he said.

Mollohan is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which sets funding levels for all discretionary government programs, and serves on three Appropriations subcommittees. He chairs the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, which funds the departments of Justice and Commerce as well as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NSF (National Science Foundation), among other agencies, and is a member of the subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies and the subcommittee on Homeland Security.Eugene Arthurs and Thomas Friedman

Mollohan was encouraging about the next cycle for stimulus funding and budget allocations, saying that science agencies are back on track toward meeting a goal set a few years ago for doubling their budgets. (Hear more of Mollohan's comments about what is expected in the President's budget request in this brief audio clip.)

CSSP presented Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist and author, with an award recognizing his impact on improving the public's appreciation of science through his writing. Friedman read from a chapter for an upcoming new edition of his book Hot, Flat and Crowded about what he sees as the problems of simultaneous collapse of the economy and the environment.

"I don't know where our ultimate response to this challenge will end but I know where it must begin: with a return to the values of sustainability in both the financial realm and the natural realm," Friedman said. "We cannot just invent our way out of the problem with renewable energy; we need renewed values."Paula Dobriansky, Ralph James

In response to a question from Arthurs about what impact the United States' actions have in the face of the impact of actions by the larger populations of China and India, Friedman said that the example set by the U.S. does matter.

"If we go green, that would be the biggest example, the biggest driver," he said. "In about 5-10 years we can invent all the green technology we need. Energy technology is the next great industry."

Among the Nobel Laureates, top frontier research leaders in optical physics and gene regulation, and House and Senate committee chairs with whom James and Arthurs met during the week was Nobel Laureate William Phillips of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology). Phillips, who shared the 1997 prize in physics for his work on laser cooling technology, is currently working on research that could contribute to development of a quantum computer.

James and Arthurs also talked with Michelle McMurry, Director of the Health, Biomedical Science, and Society Policy Program and the Aspen Health Forum at the Aspen Institute, about the intersection of biomedical research funding policies and healthcare disparities and global health inequities; and discussed ecosystem and environmental issues with Robin O'Malley, Director of Program Development for the Heinz Center, whose mission is to improve the scientific and economic foundation for environmental policy.

Photo captions (from top):

From left, Nobel Laureate William Phillips, SPIE President Elect Ralph James, and Xiang Zhang, Director of the NSF Nano-scale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) at the Univ. of California, Berkeley, discuss policy. Zhang, an SPIE Fellow, is a leader in cloaking and negative refraction research.

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs, at left, talks with Pulitzer-prize winning author and columnist Thomas Friedman.

SPIE President Elect Ralph James talks with Paula Dobriansky, former Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, about visa issues impacting science and education. Dobriansky is now Senior Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School.

SPIE is the international optics and photonics society, founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 188,000 constituents from 138 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. In 2008, the Society provided more than $1.9 million in support of scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world. For more information, visit SPIE.org.

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