A Message from the Presidents of the NAS, NAE, and NAM:
Looking Ahead in 2019

Feb. 4, 2019

Dear Friends of the National Academies:

With the new year underway, we would like to share with you our outlook for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2019.

If you have visited either of our buildings in Washington, D.C., you may have seen this quote by Albert Einstein on display: “The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”

Those words serve as a daily reminder of our essential mission at the National Academies: to be the truthful voice for science, engineering, and medicine – the trusted source for independent, objective advice based on evidence. The truths that science provides are more important than ever to spark progress and ensure prosperity, security, and well-being for our nation and the world.

A United Voice for Science, Engineering, and Medicine

As long-standing bastions of nonpartisan science and evidence, the National Academies can unite others around consensus revealed by the evidence and spur innovation in ways that no other institution can. Together, our three Academies convene the best available expertise across the sciences, engineering, and medicine to identify a path forward on some of society’s most pressing challenges.

As long-standing bastions of nonpartisan science and evidence, the National Academies can unite others around consensus revealed by the evidence and spur innovation in ways that no other institution can. Together, our three Academies convene the best available expertise across the sciences, engineering, and medicine to identify a path forward on some of society’s most pressing challenges.

This year began with a prolonged partial shutdown of the federal government, and there is still uncertainty about the immediate future. But we are encouraged by the recent appointment of a director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which we hope will lead to renewed and greater consideration of science in public policy. We are also pleased that policymakers in both parties continue to seek out and value the expertise of the National Academies on a wide range of issues. During this past Congress, for instance, our members and volunteer experts participated in close to 200 congressional briefings on our studies.

Our advice last year included how to modernize the nation’s aging interstate highways and secure the U.S. voting system to ensure that every vote is counted. We focused a spotlight on the health effects of e-cigarettes and examined how to continue progress toward eliminating lung diseases caused by exposure to coal mine dust. We identified feasible paths for space exploration and laid out a decadal strategy to enhance critical data and observations of our own planet. And we provided a financial strategy for improving access to high-quality early childhood care and education.

This year promises to be just as productive. New studies will examine updating the U.S. electric power infrastructure, helping public transportation adjust to disrupters such as Uber and Lyft, and developing a blueprint to combat sickle cell disease. We’ll be releasing a major report on improving reproducibility and replicability in research, and to help counter the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, a new decadal study will identify the most promising areas of social sciences research. Initiated in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, our Gulf Research Program is catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to support healthy ecosystems, thriving communities, and safer offshore energy systems in the Gulf of Mexico region. And the new Environmental Health Matters Initiative brings together expertise across the Academies to explore the science about environmental factors and human health and create innovative pathways toward better health.

See Related Resources Below

Commitment to Innovation and Impact

In fact, innovation will be front and center at the National Academies this year. We recognize that we need to change to stay relevant in an increasingly fast-changing policy environment, and we are identifying new ways to respond to the needs of the nation. We launched an Academies-wide effort to transform how we work and to bring sustained improvements to our products and processes.

To amplify the impact of our work, for example, the NAM recently launched an action collaborative to end the nation’s opioid epidemic. Many groups and organizations are tackling parts of this complex problem, but fragmentation of efforts is often impeding progress. Through the action collaborative, the NAM has partnered with the Aspen Institute and more than 50 other public- and private-sector organizations to share knowledge, align ongoing initiatives, and advance collective solutions. Fast-track studies being conducted this year by the National Academies will inform this effort.

Along the same lines, the three Academies are planning an initiative to spur continued momentum on our 2018 report about sexual harassment in the academic sciences, engineering, and medicine. Long before the #MeToo movement captured national attention, we began this study because we were concerned that persistent harassment was forcing too many women out of promising academic or professional careers. Our report called for a major shift in culture among academic and research communities to stop harassment and to foster respect and inclusion. An op-ed about our report, published in the November 2018 issue of the IEEE Spectrum, was endorsed enthusiastically and jointly by the past, present and next presidents of the IEEE. We also placed an op-ed in the New England Journal of Medicine, and we’re discussing the report at various professional meetings. And we’re following our own advice – the NAS, NAE, and NAM have each developed codes of conduct that expect their members to adhere to the highest professional standards.

The challenges we will face this year and beyond increasingly transcend national borders, and our Academies are committed to working with our international partners to provide global leadership in science, engineering, and medicine. For instance, the recent Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing – which the NAS and NAM co-hosted with the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong and the Royal Society of the U.K. – drew more than 500 attendees, and was watched live online by over a million in approximately 190 nations. At the summit, a Chinese researcher claimed to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies, news that drew widespread condemnation. But it also served to heighten the urgency for internationally agreed-upon criteria and standards for human genome editing research and applications. This year, the NAS and NAM are joining with the Royal Society and other academies to form an international commission on these issues.

The NAE’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP), one of the most significant reforms to engineering education in generations, continues to expand nationally and around the world. All engineers who graduate today will be working globally, and this program for the first time arms students with a unique set of competencies that are much in demand: acquiring technical talent through experiential learning, engaging in multidisciplinary engineering systems, developing entrepreneurial or business skills, learning multicultural competency, and practicing social consciousness, so that engineering projects benefit individuals and society. To date, nearly one-third of U.S. engineering deans have signed onto GCSP principles, and programs are in process or underway in more than 180 universities. The NAE helps these university programs collaborate, network, and improve students’ experiences. For instance, GCSP scholars will participate in the fourth Global Grand Challenges Summit, which takes place this fall in London.

Given the unprecedented speed by which information – and in some cases, misinformation – is being shared through digital channels, the National Academies are also engaging decision-makers and the public in different ways. For example, we hope our new Climate Communications Initiative will more quickly inject knowledge and expertise into the public dialogue about climate change. We also launched a pilot project with Google to counter misinformation on the web with evidence. And soon the NAS will unveil The Science Behind It, a campaign framed around 30 compelling questions that were selected based on our own polling data. The initiative uses engaging videos, accessible narrative, and appealing graphics to highlight how science addresses challenges many of us face in our daily lives.

None of this would be possible without our members and volunteers, who work tirelessly to help us carry out our mission, or without our talented and dedicated staff. We are also grateful to our government sponsors and to the foundations, philanthropic organizations, and other private donors who support our work.

Einstein also said, “We have to do the best we are capable of. This is our sacred human responsibility." With your steady support, we are confident that together, we can continue to harness the incredible power of science, engineering, and medicine for the betterment of all of society.

Marcia McNutt
President, National Academy of Sciences

C. D. Mote, Jr.
President, National Academy of Engineering

Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine

Related Resources:

Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future
Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy
Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes
Monitoring and Sampling Approaches to Assess Underground Coal Mine Dust Exposures
Exoplanet Science Strategy
An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe
Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space
Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education 
Modernizing the U.S. Electric Power System
The Role of Public Transportation and Mobility Management in an Era of New and Expanding Shared Mobility Options
Addressing Sickle Cell Disease: A Strategic Plan and Blueprint for Action
Reproducibility and Replicability in Science
Gulf Research Program
Environmental Health Matters Initiative
NAM Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic
Current Studies on Opioids
Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
National Academies Report Says Sexual Harassment Is a Threat to Engineering (IEEE Spectrum)
Ending Sexual Harassment in Academic Medicine (New England Journal of Medicine)
NAS President Addresses Report on Sexual Harassment (Video)
Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing
NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program
Climate Communications Initiative
Based on Science