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2026th Stated Meeting: Scientific Advances and their Impact on Society

Watch video of this event.

On October 21, 2015, following an introduction by Academy Member Gordon Gill of the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, Jonathan Fanton introduced a panel discussion convened at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. The discussion featured John H. Evans, University of California, San Diego; Academy Member Lawrence Goldstein, University of California, San Diego School of Medicine; Lisa Madlensky, University of California, San Diego Medical Center; and Academy Member J. Craig Venter of Human Longevity, Inc.

The discussion served as the 2026th Stated Meeting of the American Academy.

I am pleased to call to order the two thousand twenty-sixth (2,026th) Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

It is a real pleasure to come to UCSD for my first visit as President of the Academy. Since I took office last year, I have been struck by the level of interest of the Academy’s members in its programs. Our members contribute in numerous ways, including serving on advisory committees, participating in the preparation of policy reports, and writing for our quarterly journal, Dædalus. I look forward to opportunities to work with the UCSD family in the coming years.

Earlier this month, the Academy welcomed its 235th class at our annual induction ceremony in Cambridge, including five new members from the San Diego area: Phil S. Baran from the Scripps Research Institute, Joseph R. Ecker and Dennis D.M. O’Leary from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Patricia Smith Churchland and David Kleinfeld from UC-San Diego. With the election of these five remarkable scholars, there are now 120 members of the Academy in the San Diego area. Please join me in congratulating them on their election to the Academy.

San Diego was well represented at this year’s Induction, as both Phil Baran and Patricia Churchland spoke on behalf of their respective membership classes—'Professor Baran for Class I, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Professor Churchland for Class II, Biological Sciences.

Both speakers passionately described their fascination with the natural world, what Professor Baran called “the promise of new unthinkable phenomena waiting to be uncovered.” Professor Churchland spoke of the insights into human nature that have been gained by merging the disciplines of neuroscience, philosophy, evolutionary biology, genetics, and anthropology.

The Academy’s function is not simply to honor excellence in a broad range of disciplines and professions. Its members also conduct studies of critical policy issues and debate the most pressing issues of the day. Our ability to draw on experts from around the world and from every discipline and profession is the Academy’s biggest asset in providing thoughtful, independent trusted advice to the nation and beyond.

Of particular relevance to today’s program is a recent Academy report on science and engineering research, entitled Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream. Released in September 2014, Restoring the Foundation encourages a greater emphasis on long-range planning in the area of science and engineering. It encourages funders and policymakers to support basic research that may not yield immediate results, but that may ultimately prove transformative.

The report’s recommendations have found a strong backing in both the public and private sectors, including among members of congress from both sides of the aisle. This summer ten American business leaders issued the Innovation Imperative, a public statement in support of several of our recommendations. Signers included the heads of Merck, Novartis, John Deere, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Microsoft. The statement was endorsed by over 300 additional companies, universities, and NGOs from across all 50 states, including, locally, UCSD and Qualcomm.

Yesterday, the Academy organized a briefing for Congress to highlight the importance of federally-supported basic research for private sector innovation. The event featured opening remarks from Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and Gary Peters (D-Michigan), and Representative Randy Hultgren (R-Illinois 14th). Also included was commentary from Academy Members Norman Augustine, co-chair of Restoring the Foundation; Jeannette Wing, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Research; and Roger Perlmutter, President of Merck Research Laboratories.

The Academy’s current commissions address issues and opportunities related to higher education. The Lincoln Project is looking at the challenges facing public research universities in the face of cutbacks in state funding, a phenomenon with which you are familiar. Co-chaired by former Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and former Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, the Lincoln Project will issue its final recommendations in early 2016. But along the way, it is authoring background reports, two of which are available in the reception area.

And shortly we will convene a new commission looking at all postsecondary education in the US, including community colleges, online programs, for-profit colleges. Chaired by Spencer Foundation President Michael McPherson, the new commission will focus on the cost of higher education and equality of access for all Americans.

We are also developing a new initiative on “The Public Face of Science,” a topic that many of our members have urged us to take on as a major Academy study. Our plans include an in-depth examination of how individual attitudes and beliefs, as well as depictions of new discoveries in the media, shape public support for scientific research.

We will also undertake a set of case studies of how scientists are consulted during public decision-making, for example in the legal system, during natural disasters, and in the development of educational standards.

I invite you to contact me with your thoughts on this important topic, and on other studies, projects and publications the Academy might undertake. We have created a new Exploratory Fund to support meetings of our members who want to explore topics of common interest.

We now have seven exploratory projects underway and five more in development, ranging from an examination of legal services for the poor to the future of jazz to the need for closer connections between area studies and international relations. So if you have a topic you want to explore through the Academy send me an email with a brief description.

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