Working to Shape the Future of Science Policy With Entrepreneurship and Humility

By December 22, 2021

When my dad turned 75 this October, he told me that it was the first birthday that really got under his skin and made him realize his age. Something about 75 years conveys the gravitas of a lifetime, encompassing three distinct generations and witnessing epic societal transformation over decades. 

For perspective, it was 75 years ago when Winston Churchill gave his famous speech warning of an “Iron Curtain” falling over Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe and that the United Nations General Assembly met for the first time; the year that saw a bank issue its first credit card, the first commercial use of suntan lotion, and the invention of Tide™ detergent and Tupperware.™ It was also the year that President Truman signed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 into law, creating the civilian-controlled United States Atomic Energy Commission to oversee the creation of nuclear weapons and to research and implement the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  

It was against this historical backdrop, that a group of entrepreneurial scientists founded the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in 1946 to meet national security challenges with evidence-based, scientifically-driven policy and expertise. Over 75 years later, FAS is still working to minimize the risks of significant threats, as well as addressing critical issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress and prevent catastrophic harm. 

An echo of 75 years ago, today we face urgent and pressing threats to human wellbeing, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change to systemic racism to threats to national security. Science and innovation offers hope, inspiration, and concrete roadmaps for change, but as we have witnessed repeatedly, science and innovation alone are no panacea. Society faces deep schisms and structural challenges. Trust in science has eroded significantly. We face a critical crossroads for science policy and the imperative to create feedback loops that ensure that the creation of new knowledge and its pathway toward use in decision-making move in lockstep.

Today, FAS is at the forefront of reimagining the next 75 years of science policy… one actionable idea at a time. The FAS’ Day One Project is dedicated to democratizing the policymaking process by working with new and expert voices across the science and technology community, building S&T capacity in the federal government, and helping to develop policies that can be implemented in the near-term. This work embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship, creativity, and humility that shaped FAS’ mandate and methodology from its earliest years.

FAS’ work is taking place at a unique moment, one in which the pandemic has really opened our eyes to the urgency of restructuring the very foundation of the science policy interface to better enable evidence-based decisions. Many thought leaders are talking and writing about the future of science policy, and policymakers are really listening. Incidentally, much has been written about the particular time frame of 75 years. In addition to FAS’ 75th anniversary, last year marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of Science, The Endless Frontier: A Report to the President by Vannevar Bush, who was an influential science advisor to president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In recognition of Vannevar Bush, Issues in Science and Technology, is publishing a year-long series on The Next 75 Years of Science Policy that forecasts needs to restructure the resources of science to enable the best possible future.

Looking forward, FAS is embracing the theme of “progress studies,” which refers to a school of thought focused on studying people, organizations, institutions, and cultures and offering policy recommendations to advance societal progress — broadly defined — over time.  This focus challenges the convergence of ideas from technologists, economists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, scholars studying innovation and the science of science policy to come together in providing actionable ideas on how to most productively create more equitable, inclusive, robust, prosperous, and effective societies. 

Progress studies is only one of many opportunities that FAS is poised to help shape the future of science policy. From helping to deliver timely input to Congress through the Congressional Science Policy Initiative to new efforts to help make the science of science policy actionable for decision makers, FAS is poised to help shape the future of science policy. Building on a legacy of 75 years, today FAS stands ready to build on its rich history, learn from contributions to science policy over the past decades, and help forge a path imbued with the spirit of entrepreneurship and humility.