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Trump science adviser calls for more collaboration between industry and government

Meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier emphasized the importance of private science funding in his first public speech since taking office.

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Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier was sworn into office by Mike Pence on February 11, 2019.

Kelvin Droegemeier (left) was sworn in last month as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.Credit: White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Kelvin Droegemeier, newly minted science adviser to US President Donald Trump, wants industry to take a larger role in funding research, with the ultimate goal of ushering in a “second golden era” of US science.

Collaboration between the public and private sectors, as well as reducing regulatory burdens, would be key to maintaining America as a dominant global force in science, the meteorologist said on 15 February, in his first public address since taking office last month.

“This is the best time in history to be in science,” Droegemeier told a crowd at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC. “We’ve never been in a better position than right now to truly remain the global leaders in science and technology.”

In his 35-minute speech, Droegemeier did not address climate change, environmental issues or other scientific topics that Trump has disparaged publicly. His comments on the president were limited to assurances that “science and technology are alive and well in the Trump administration”, and mentions of the White House’s artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing initiatives, as examples of its commitment to science.

Droegemeier said that the Trump administration is “laser focused” on improving the ability to translate academic research into marketable products, which would require greater collaboration between the federal government, industry and non-profit foundations. Private funding for basic scientific research has increased in recent years, and surpassed federal funding in 2015. Data compiled by the AAAS show that government spending on science has largely remained flat since 2004.

To address the changing mix of funding, Droegemeier said, the public and private sectors should work together to better leverage their individual resources and expertise. “America is truly now entering a second golden era in the endless frontier of science and technology.” The first being the boom in research seen during and directly after the Second World War. “We need to take an enterprise-wide view.”

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite, in 1957, only the US government had the financial resources to develop technology to match that feat. Today, Droegemeier said, such needs might be met by private industry. He called for a return of “blue sky” research labs, such as the famed Bell Laboratories, which developed the transistor and laser. Similar “alpha institutes” today could work on major problems such infectious disease and climate change, he said.

Another of Trump’s priorities, Droegemeier said, was to remove what the administration considers as unnecessary regulations and administrative hurdles to research. Droegemeier cited “guesstimates” that the time spent fulfilling unspecified compliance requirements costs the country billions of dollars. (He did not respond to questions from reporters after his speech.)

Droegemeier broke from his main theme to briefly discuss harassment and discrimination in science. “It is absolutely imperative that everyone who truly cares about the future of science in America, from the grade-school teacher to the first-year chemistry student to the president’s science adviser, does all that she or he can to ensure the safety and security of our researchers and our innovations,” he said. “The standard of behaviour that we expect from the scientific community must apply everywhere that research is conducted.”

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00574-3
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