Marburger: Terror war tops science list

By MIKE MARTIN, UPI Science News   |   April 7, 2002 at 7:51 PM
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ORLANDO, Fla., April 7 (UPI) -- Most roads along the government's science policy road map lead to the U.S. war on terrorism, presidential science adviser John Marburger told the American Chemical Society's 223rd national meeting Sunday.

Marburger emphasized the broad role of science and science policy in the public discourse and said terrorism will be a key priority for the foreseeable future.

"I cannot over-emphasize how committed President Bush is to this war on terrorism," Marburger said.

Science plays a heightened role in the war effort because "this war has a degree of complexity we have not seen in previous wars," Marburger explained. "I see terrorism as a complex threat that will be with us for a very long time."

Science and scientists must approach the this war effort with careful steps, unlike the Manhattan Project's all-out effort to build nuclear capability with the blunt force of atomic bombs exploding in American deserts.

"While I've heard such an approach seriously discussed, using a Manhattan-style project ... would be misguided" in the war on terror, Marburger said. "The state of science today is very different than it was during prior wars, like World War II. Making systems and society less vulnerable to terrorism will have to be a great partnership between both the public and private sector."

Government implementation of homeland security remains complicated, Marburger said. His Office of Science and Technology Policy is not completely organized with respect to the war on terrorism or homeland security and he expressed skepticism the situation would change anytime soon.

Science budgets, Marburger said, have increased about 2 percent from last year overall, with the National Science Foundation's budget increasing "by 3.4 percent over what it was last year."

Additional funding increases are essential "if we want to sustain the broad interests of society," he said. "We have to fund the machinery of science in a rational way."

Nanotechnology and the ability to physically manipulate individual atoms "presently represents the greatest scientific frontier," Marburger said.

"The most exciting areas for new development in science are in chemistry," Marburger, a physicist, added. "We physicists like to think our issues are at the top, but chemists do the most for human beings."

Bush's overall science funding priorities are based on a simple principle, Marburger explained.

"Promising long-term, high risk applications are government's role to fund," he said. "Shorter term, lower-risk applications are private industry's responsibility. There is a great reluctance in this administration to fund things private industry can do better, but enthusiastic support overall for basic research and development."

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