|Jonathan F. Fanton|
Advancing the Common Good
Since its founding in 1780, the American Academy has sought to advance useful knowledge in the arts and sciences. To quote the Academy’s Memoirs from 1783, “It is the part of a patriot-philosopher to pursue every hint – to cultivate every enquiry, which may eventually tend to the security and welfare of his fellow citizens, the extension of their commerce, and the improvement of those arts, which adorn and embellish life.”
Different from other academies, the American Academy draws its membership from colleges and universities, business, public service, and a range of professions including art, law, and medicine. One of the great values of the Academy is that it brings together members from different disciplines and fields of expertise to participate in its projects, studies, and publications.
Through the Academy’s Board of Directors, Council, and Committee on Studies and Publications, the members decide what issues to address.
Sometimes the Academy appoints a commission to study an important issue, for example, the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences and another Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. Often members come together on a specific topic, for example, a group studying the future of alternative energy and another advising on how to develop nuclear power safely. An issue of Dædalus is often connected to the Academy’s work in a particular area: a project exploring ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies employed in war is the topic of two forthcoming issues of Dædalus. A full description of current and recent Academy studies and publications may be found on the Academy’s website.
It is understood that important ideas and policy recommendations often mature over time and that the Academy encourages intellectual inquiry that may never yield measurable results. But there are examples of how recent Academy work has posed fresh questions, shaped research agendas, framed issues in new ways, stimulated public discussions of important topics, and provided useful advice to policy-makers.
Here are a few recent examples:
- ARISE (Advancing Research In Science and Engineering), 2000–2008, addressed two issues central to the vitality of America’s research enterprise: 1) the support of early-career investigators; and 2) the encouragement of high-risk, high-reward research. The recommendations included in the ARISE report were incorporated into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as well as the federal budgets for FY2010 and FY2011.
- The Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2010–2016, published The Heart of the Matter report, which has been downloaded more than two hundred thousand times and has more than ten thousand copies in print. The Report Brief contributed additionally to these totals: six thousand copies in print; 19,977 downloads in English; 2,753 downloads in Spanish; and 7,033 downloads in Korean. The film associated with The Heart of the Matter has been viewed online more than fifty thousand times. The Heart of the Matter Around the Country, the final publication of this initiative, offers a selection of the Commission’s activities in action across the United States on university campuses and in local communities, and includes a collection of testimonies written by organizations that have been encouraged and aided by The Heart of the Matter report. Among these activities were nearly fifty events in twenty-three states as well as in England, Switzerland, and Sri Lanka.
- The Alternative Energy Future, 2010–present, produced the Beyond Technology report that was cited in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2011 Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) as evidence of the importance of applying social science expertise to the design of energy technologies and policies. The DOE used the report’s recommendations to establish a new SunShot program on Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies (SEEDS), which requires participating engineering teams to include social scientists as integral team members from the beginning of the project.
- The Global Nuclear Future Initiative, 2008–present, has produced more than thirteen publications. Many of them have helped to foster much needed public debate on key nuclear issues; some have been instrumental in guiding the development of government policies. For example, in 2014 the project published A Worst Practice Guide to Insider Threats: Lessons from Past Mistakes, which has been adopted by U.S. national laboratories as training material for staff to ensure the security of nuclear facilities and nuclear material. In addition, in November 2015, the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission of South Australia contacted members of the GNF Initiative to discuss the feasibility of a proposal developed by the project for the creation of a regional interim storage facility in Asia. The official report of the Royal Commission refers explicitly to the work of the GNF project on this subject.
- New Models for U.S. Science and Technology Policy, 2013–present, published Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, which suggests actions to secure America’s leadership in science and engineering research. Committee members were invited to present the report’s recommendations at Senate hearings in July 2014 and May 2016. The report also inspired a call to action issued by ten American business leaders. Titled “Innovation: An American Imperative,” the statement urges policy-makers to act on several of the Restoring the Foundation report’s recommendations for stronger federal policies and investment to drive domestic research and development. Over 400 organizations have endorsed this call to action.
- Earlier this spring, The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education, 2013–present, released its recommendations for preserving the strength and diversity of the nation’s public research universities. Over the course of the project, more than 33,000 copies of the Lincoln Project publications have been distributed to universities and policy-makers around the country – with many public research universities requesting additional copies for distribution to members of their legislatures, other elected officials, chamber of commerce staff and directors, and local business leaders. To further disseminate and publicize the project’s recommendations, the Academy held events in Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, D.C., with representatives from the media, scholars in higher education, elected officials, and nonprofit and business leaders. Additional meetings are planned in the coming months, at venues across the country.
I hope these examples make clear that the Academy is committed to following up on commission and project reports produced by its members. One of the Academy’s governing bodies, the Trust, is charged with measuring the impact of Academy commissions and projects and reporting the results to the membership on a regular basis.
I want to thank the members who have given generously of their time and wisdom to advance the common good through the Academy’s projects and publications. As I write, over 175 members are involved in the Academy’s current commissions, projects, publications, and exploratory conversations. If you are interested in participating in the substantive work of the Academy–or have an idea you want to explore with other members–please let me know.