FROM THE EDITORS
National Academy of Sciences 150th
Celebrated at Library of Congress
The Library of Congress and Carnegie Corporation of New York hosted a daylong symposium on June 25 to commemorate the 150th anniversaries of the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences, the passage of the Morrill Act -- which led to the creation of the nation‘s land-grant colleges -- and the contributions of Andrew Carnegie to the public library system.
A central theme of the public event was making a new commitment to knowledge-based democracy. A panel led by NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone discussed the cultural and intellectual conditions under which NAS was founded in 1863 and the development of a national science infrastructure in the late 19th century. But it also focused on the need to look forward. “We need to capitalize on the American spirit of participatory democracy,” Cicerone said.
Fellow panelist U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) issued a call to return to scientific thinking and to reintegrate science into society. And Yale historian Daniel Kevles cited several examples of evidence-based policy recommendations from NAS and others and their positive impact on society. He noted that while some were well-received -- such as the NAS suggestion to consolidate land surveys, leading to the formation of the U.S. Geological Survey -- others were met with opposition from those with conflicting political and economic interests.
But it is the Academy’s ability to issue reports from an objective, nonpartisan, and evidence-driven stance that is a “fabulous advantage,” Cicerone said, and it serves as a model for other countries trying to create similar programs. “We have an incredible resource here, and we work hard to maintain its credibility,” he said.
NAS Vice President Barbara Schaal added that we are expanding our role from speaking primarily to the government to speaking directly to the public as well, pointing to several NAS initiatives such as the development of booklets on topics important to public debate and the Science & Entertainment Exchange, which connects scientists with professionals in the television and film industry.