June 26, 2012
National Academy of Sciences Honored at Library of Congress
A new commitment to knowledge-based democracy was a central theme yesterday at a Library of Congress public event commemorating the 150th anniversaries of the passage of the Morrill Act -- which led to the creation of the nation's land-grant colleges -- and the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences and the Carnegie libraries.
NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone led a session on the development of a national science infrastructure in the late 19th century. The panel discussed the cultural and intellectual conditions under which NAS was founded, but also focused on the need to look forward. "We need to capitalize on the American spirit of participatory democracy," Cicerone said.
Fellow panelist U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) issued a call to return to scientific thinking and to reintegrate science into society. And Yale historian Daniel Kevles cited several historical examples of evidence-based policy recommendations from NAS and others and their impact on society.
Cicerone said that the Academy's ability to issue reports from an objective, nonpartisan, and evidence-driven stance is a "fabulous advantage" and serves as a model for other countries trying to create similar programs. "We have an incredible resource here, and we work hard to maintain its credibility," he said.
"We're also expanding our role from speaking only to the government to speaking directly to the public," added NAS Vice President Barbara Schaal. She pointed to several NAS initiatives, such as the development of booklets on topics important to public debate and the Science and Entertainment Exchange, which connects scientists with professionals in the television and film industry.
The event also featured sessions on the Morrill Act and the creation of the land-grant colleges, and on the contributions of Andrew Carnegie to the public library system.