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Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future

Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future

This video was recorded at MIT World Series: Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT 2006. George Whitesides refers to the recent National Academies report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," as a "case study for how to catch the attention of the government at a particular time." As one of a select group of scientists invited to participate in framing the report, Whitesides offers insights on its conclusions and recommendations. He points out that the entire process of examining how to strengthen this nation's position in the global economy was contrary to the slow and deliberate pace of Academy members. By request of Congress, they had to arrive at a strategy with concrete steps in 90 days, which "almost violates the second law of thermodynamics," says Whitesides. The notion was to "get a group of smart people together and have them come up with good ideas." This assembly of some of the nation's top scientists, engineers and industry leaders found that the U.S. science and technology establishment has eroded, while other nations are making rapid advances in these areas. Since "capitalism dictates that corporations get the best bang for the buck," as Whitesides says, industries will increasingly look outside the U.S. for high tech development and enterprise. This finding has grabbed the attention of Washington politicians, says Whitesides, who are keenly interested in American jobs. Among the study's conclusions: The U.S. must renew its commitment to education, research and innovation to ensure work for coming generations; we need to avoid being complacent that the U.S. will remain competitive and preeminent in science and technology; and actions are required not only of federal, state and local governments, but of each American family. The recommendations are captured in what Whitesides describes as "catchy phrases:" 10 Thousand Teachers, 10 Million Minds; Sowing the Seeds; Best and Brightest; Incentives for Innovation. Translated, these recommendations involve recruiting 10 thousand able people to teach K-12 math and science; pumping money into long-term basic research; increasing the numbers of U.S. citizens earning science, engineering and math degrees and making it easier for foreign students to study here; and making the U.S. the premiere place for innovation in terms of tax policy, intellectual property protection and other incentives. The report has engendered broad bipartisan and White House support--"Everyone is for it," says Whitesides, but the question of how to pay for all the study's recommendations nags. The Office of Management and Budget says it doesn't have the money. And one central idea of an advanced research project centered on energy is "clouded by complexities." Whitesides predicts years of discussion in Washington.

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