The Importance of Ocean Sciences to Society
ADMIRAL JAMES D. WATKINS. U.S. NAVY (RET.)
President, Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education
Congratulations to the National Science Foundation for 50 years of research excellence and delivery of valuable products from discovery that enhance human understanding.
To tackle the challenges associated with the topic given to this panel, let me start out with a quote:
Yet the present achievements, exciting though they are, must be considered only a beginning to what is yet to be achieved by probing the vast depths of water that cover most of the surface of the earth. [Some years ago] a group of distinguished scientists... of the National Academy of Sciences declared that "Man's knowledge of the oceans is meager indeed compared with their importance to him."
This statement is as true now as when it was first made by Rachel Carson in the 1960s.
The United States will have focused incredible resources during the last 50 years of this century—the precise period of scientific accomplishments by NSF that we celebrate at this symposium—on exciting space exploration looking outward toward the frontier of the "Big Bang." As we turn the corner into the next millennium, I sincerely hope we can also energize the American public and our national leadership to look, more thoroughly, inward toward Earth's last frontier, the oceans, to help solve the countless growing challenges to humankind, investing the necessary resources to significantly enhance our knowledge of the greatest natural resource on Earth that may house answers to these challenges.
To energize the public and elected officials, we will need new vision, new strategies, much better scientist-to-citizen communication techniques, and much more aggressive follow-through on the part of our scientific community and other stakeholders to carry out the strategy. NSF, as a nearly unique non-mission science support agency of the federal government, has a key part to play in defining this needed new vision for science' s role for tomorrow's society.
The exciting thing about the ocean is that its science is virtually all relevant to societal needs—quality of life, economic development, national security, education—and hence more potentially salable to our society, one that demands to know what's in it for them. So what must this new vision of ocean sciences include? I'll only focus briefly on four elements, which although not all-inclusive, are seemingly lacking today:
Integrated Science Education—Marriage between all levels of science education and the science researcher.
Human Health and the Oceans—Incorporation of the ocean's impact on human health into community thinking when addressing ocean science and technology drivers.
Product Delivery—Establishment of the paradigm of research and development (R&D) as a business that, in certain cases, can predictably lead from basic research all the way to "products."
Let me touch on each one of these individually.
Arthur Nowell has covered this area well in an earlier paper, but let me just add a few comments.
Science should proactively involve and integrate education, and education should incorporate the most current science. Education means both formal (classroom) and informal (e.g., science centers and aquariums). It includes everything from kindergarten to doctoral levels.
Ocean science lends itself uniquely and ideally to the new initiatives for education and the new National Science Education Standards produced by National Research Council (NRC, 1996) in that it is:
Interdisciplinary and integrated by nature
And, what better medium can we find than the oceans: (1) for kids to be motivated to learn something about all scientific disciplines, and (2) for ocean researchers to actively help out in the national educational reform effort underway today. This education reform is desperately needed to convert a scientifically illiterate society to one that can better understand the changing world around them. Decisions of the Ocean Research Advisory Panel (ORAP) related to education have been made as a forethought, not an after-thought, and adopted as an integrating concept with all our ocean partnership programs.
HUMAN HEALTH AND THE OCEANS (NRC, 1999)
In 1997, the NRC's Governing Board approved a project proposed by the Ocean Studies Board (OSB), in cooperation with the Institute of Medicine's Division of Health Science Policy entitled "The Ocean's Role in Human Health," which included a workshop in 1998. This workshop was sponsored jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Services (NIEHS) of National Institutes of Health, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and was tasked to examine a variety of ways in which the oceans play a role in human health. Specifically, the invited speakers addressed the following topics:
Marine natural disasters and public health: Can we better model and predict marine natural disasters? Can we better anticipate effects on public health?
Climate and the incidence of infectious diseases: Are waterborne diseases detectable and predictable? How do changes in climate—both regional and global—impact disease vectors?
Hazards associated with toxic algal blooms: What causes toxic algae to bloom? Can their outbreak be predicted, mitigated, and prevented? Why has the incidence of these blooms been increasing?
The therapeutic potential of marine natural products: What are the implications of the discovery of life a thousand meters below the seafloor? Have we adequately examined marine biotechnology for medically important products?
Marine organisms as models for biomedical research: Are there marine species that could serve as useful medical models? Can marine species offer new understanding of human development or physiology?
In relation to the report, I can say this:
This has been the first time that a panel has been organized to address this subject at such a high level; and the breadth of opportunity was surprising to all participants. Initiation of a dialogue between the medical and ocean science communities has been a most valuable outcome of this exercise.
The committee was able to identify specific areas of cooperation—with high potential payoff—that the ocean and medical research communities should pursue jointly. For a range of applications, from mitigating natural disasters to minimizing the outbreak and spread of epidemics, from keeping our recreational beaches and seafood safe to extracting life-saving products from the sea, there is an exciting spectrum of interdisciplinary and doable research that is either unfunded or undersupported.
The NRC has identified these research opportunities. We marine policy-makers must make them happen.
R&D is a business with a $75 billion bottom line in the federal government alone. But society seems to be demanding more identifiable products for its continued investment. One product can be understanding, but we need to sell that product better. Like any business, the science community needs a business plan, a market analysis, and a sales department if it is moving from the product of understanding toward potentially valuable and more conventional long-range product objectives, which often demand enhanced resources to move from research into application. The Frank Press Report (NRC, 1995) lays out a proposed approach for allocating federal R&D funds in a manner consistent with this thinking about science, technology, and product delivery.
Fortunately, from a salability standpoint, ocean science is one broad area that is inherently product-oriented. We have recently recognized the sales potential in sectors such as coastal zone management, hazard mitigation, agriculture, and public health. Let's design a stronger plan for product delivery of our ocean research and not get too heavily bogged down arguing the merits of basic research versus application. As in so many instances, the mission agencies, for example, already do this. Obviously, when products cannot be foreseen, such as in the case of the Superconducting Super Collider and its search for new discoveries regarding the make-up of matter, it's a much harder "sell" to assert that product objectives are all clear and relevant to societal needs.
Scientists and those who develop and manage scientific programs must think globally and act globally. We cannot afford, either financially or intellectually, to maintain policies of isolation in the research arena.
Ocean science is inherently international in nature. We have seen the effectiveness of this approach in the Ocean Drilling Program, a model for defining mutually beneficial research objectives among many nations. The current NAS
study, chaired by Bob Frosch and requested by the Secretary of State, looks to ocean sciences as one good test-bed for new approaches to using science and technology as tools of diplomacy.
In this connection, I urge you to read the preliminary report of this study signed out to Secretary Albright by the President of the National Academy of Sciences, Bruce Alberts. Let me just quote one vitally important paragraph:
The opportunities that the areas of science, technology, and health offer in foreign policy are dramatic. . . By forming partnerships with foreign scientists, we enhance their status and support their values, which can do a great deal to promote democracy. In addition, spreading access to new scientific and technical advances is of course essential for providing a decent life and an acceptable environment for the world's expanding population, thereby reducing the potential for destabilizing violent conflicts. (NRC, 1998)
I will close by saying that when the NSF holds its 100th Anniversary Celebration—and I understand that John Knauss has already accepted NSF's invitation to give its keynote address—it is my fond hope that they will look back to the turn of the millennium and say "thanks to those scientific visionaries 50 years ago who set a new and visionary course for ocean science and technology that added such incredible value to the United States and the world."
National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1995. Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National Science Education Standards. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
National Research Council (NRC). 1998. Improving the Use of Science, Technology, and Health Expertise in U.S. Foreign Policy (A Preliminary Report). National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
National Research Council (NRC). 1999. From Monsoons to Microbes: Understanding the Ocean's Role in Human Health. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.