Associate Under Secretary for Science
U.S. Department of Energy
OSTI 60th Anniversary
Oak Ridge, TN
September 18, 2007
Thank you, Walt [Warnick] for that generous introduction. Walt’s leadership of the Office of Scientific and Technical Information over the last 10 years has been essential to its success. He is innovative and forward looking, and we can’t thank him enough for the way he has guided and grown OSTI.
Let me begin by saying that it’s certainly an honor to represent Under Secretary for Science Raymond Orbach and the Department of Energy at this ceremony and to be joined by such a distinguished group of celebrants.
We are here today to recognize six decades of open science, six decades of free trade in ideas, six decades of the free market of knowledge. That is OSTI’s mission – open science. But it is also more than that. It’s pushing scientific discovery out the door, it’s spreading knowledge to anyone who cares to look, and through the spread of knowledge, OSTI seeks to accelerate the pace of discovery, not only here, but around the world.
The roots of this mission go back as far as science itself. Here in the United States, OSTI’s mission is at the very core of what we think makes democracy work.
Let’s look at one of the more influential roots.
Near the end of the Second World War – on November 17, 1944, to be exact – President Roosevelt asked Vannevar Bush, then the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, to apply the experience of our R&D war efforts – most of which was done in utter secrecy – to the “days of peace ahead.” Roosevelt asked for guidance on four major points.
Let me read you the very first issue he addressed to Bush:
“First: What can be done, consistent with military security, and with the prior approval of the military authorities, to make known to the world as soon as possible the contributions which have been made during our war effort to scientific knowledge.”
“The diffusion of such knowledge,” Roosevelt went on to say, “should help us stimulate new enterprises, provide jobs for our returning servicemen and other workers, and make possible great strides for the improvement of the national well-being.”
Bush responded to the President’s call with the now famous report, Science the Endless Frontier, published in 1945. In it, he articulated the rationale for a robust governmental role in science and presented the blueprint of how that was to be accomplished. It’s a rationale we repeat today, often without appreciating its origins, and it’s a blueprint we follow today in significant ways.
Bush’s core argument – that science is a proper concern of government – seems so obvious to us today that one might wonder why he needed to make it. But government’s role in science outside the military sphere wasn’t a given in his day, and opening government secrets that helped win the war would have struck many people as dangerous.
Here’s how Bush answered:
“It has been basic United States policy that Government should foster the opening of new frontiers. It opened the seas to clipper ships and furnished land for pioneers. Although these frontiers have more or less disappeared, the frontier of science remains. It is in keeping with the American tradition – one which has made the United States great – that new frontiers shall be made accessible for development by all American citizens.”
“Moreover,” Bush continued, “since health, well-being, and security are proper concerns of Government, scientific progress is, and must be, of vital interest to Government. Without scientific progress the national health would deteriorate; without scientific progress we could not hope for improvement in our standard of living or for an increased number of jobs for our citizens; and without scientific progress we could not have maintained our liberties against tyranny.”
And Bush told President Roosevelt that to do all this, “the lid must be lifted” on war-time science, and “the government should accept new responsibilities for promoting the flow of new scientific knowledge….”
This meant that government should assist in disseminating scientific work within the U.S. – among colleges, universities, labs, and industry – but also look to cultivating international agreements on the “flow of scientific information.” In fact, the “increasing specialization of science will make it more important than ever that scientists in this country keep continually ahead of developments abroad,” he concluded.
Vannevar Bush’s endless frontier seems to anticipate – and increase – endless competition in science.
We know what happened in the post-war era. Bush’s advice was largely heeded, and America became the most powerful economic and industrial colossus the world has ever seen. Does anyone think this would have occurred had the U.S. remained insular, held tight its scientific discoveries, and feared the diffusion of knowledge?
Here OSTI has made a special contribution to openness. The scientific and technical legacy of the Department of Energy and its predecessor agencies is captured within the OSTI building– whether in paper, microfiche, or bits. Another way of saying this is that virtually the entire corpus of human knowledge on energy is housed at OSTI. And the overwhelming majority of it is entirely open.
What’s more, through initiatives such as Science.gov and now WorldWideScience.org, OSTI is contributing its expertise to the broadest possible effort to diffuse scientific knowledge in all fields, not just those related to energy. It is going to be hard to calculate the impact of just these two web-based tools on the endless frontier, but I wager it will be considerable.
Now OSTI has added a wrinkle to The Endless Frontier. Diffusion of knowledge is essential because it actually accelerates the discovery process. This acceleration is enhanced by the new technology we see in operation today at OSTI headquarters – advanced search tools, enhanced databases, and simply more powerful computers. The greater the sharing of knowledge, the faster the pace of scientific discovery. Walt Warnick tells me this is the OSTI Corollary.
Today, our Federal government invests $130 billion a year in research and development, and DOE alone invests some $9 billion. OSTI’s goal is to use 21st Century technology to make sure that the science generated by that huge expenditure of taxpayer money is available – easily and at no cost – to those who need it.
We are justly proud of all that OSTI has accomplished with technology. And we are looking forward to even more magic in the years to come. Were they to pay us a visit today, I suspect Bush and other scientists of his era would be fascinated, but not really surprised, at what we can now do to fulfill their hopes for the American scientific enterprise. We can do more to diffuse and accelerate science and we can do it faster and in a more targeted fashion than they could. But we are just following in their footsteps.
Still, the technology is beyond impressive. But it can blind us to a simple fact. It’s a fact I want to end on as we celebrate OSTI’s sixty years.
It is the people of this organization, more than the technology, that has made the difference. Six decades of hard work by federal workers and our contractor community have made OSTI’s success. They’ve done the mundane things, and they’ve participated in and driven remarkable innovation. And they’ve done that for sixty years.
I close with thanks for the people past and present who have made this organization the enormous success it is today. You have a great heritage, deep roots in the American system of openness, and – I suspect – a very, very bright future.
Last updated on Friday 18 October 2013