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February 2018

RAND Gulf States Policy Institute

From the Director

RAND's Marjory Blumenthal

Marjory Blumenthal, Director
RAND Science, Technology, and Policy

I often consider a Gulf States regional version of the familiar poll question, “What do you think is the most important problem facing our country today?” Here in the Gulf States, that answer is often tied to our preparedness, resilience, crime, economic development, health, and education. (It's quite a list we're all working on!)

Our work at the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute focuses on these issues and our commitment to helping to improve the lives of our community neighbors. Our commitment to the region remains strong. As always, RAND's goal is to provide objective research to help inform policymaking. To that end, we congratulate the mayor-elect of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, and we look forward to providing pertinent, objective research.

There are other issues to consider for our far future in the region—namely, science and technology. Although the Gulf States have a long history of innovation built on science and tech, it's worth taking another look to see where we're going and whether we are positioning ourselves for the best possible competitive future. To help us with that, I turn to colleagues, such as Marjory Blumenthal, director of RAND Science, Technology, and Policy.

Marjory works with our research teams here to understand what roles science and technology play or could play in improving the lives of our neighbors and bringing about the positive changes in areas we care about. In this issue of the newsletter, you can read her thoughts about the strengths our region brings to the scientific community, as well as the challenges we all face.

All the best,

Gary Cecchine

Researcher Spotlight

Q&A with Marjory Blumenthal

Marjory Blumenthal

Below is our discussion with Marjory Blumenthal, director of RAND Science, Technology, and Policy. She discusses her biggest science and technology policy concerns, and how the Gulf States region can face them.

1. What are some of the biggest science and technology policy concerns we face as a nation?

As I see it, there are three pressing concerns. First—and likely the most critical—is that the very premises of science and technology policy are in question. As I write, there is no science adviser to the president, and federal research and development (R&D) funding is shrinking as some programs are halted and the budgets of others are cut. These circumstances have provoked outcry from science leaders, but now policy analysts need to take a breath, ask whether this is the new normal, and consider the options for maintaining, if not enhancing, the vitality of U.S. R&D.

The second major concern is how the nation is positioned at a time when other countries are or will soon be demonstrating R&D strength. The United States cannot presume broad and continuing leadership in science and technology. New policies might need to support us in collaborating more broadly with other countries on R&D. As it is, for technologies that have already emerged, other countries have taken the lead in international standard-setting, a kind of science and technology policy issue that doesn't get a lot of play but that can have direct bearing on the competitive positioning of companies and industries.

A third and long-term concern is the pipeline of talent. When it comes to science and technology, there has been a new spotlight recently on the lack of diversity in the tech sector in particular. Efforts to attract more students from all backgrounds at young ages to the sciences and then sustaining that interest through the college years is essential—and too many people have been saying that for too long.

2. Is there anything that the U.S. Gulf States region can do to help the nation address these concerns?

The southeast states have several important research universities with innovative agricultural, computing, engineering, and medical programs, among others. To deal with diminishing funding, these universities might choose to forge a new path by showing institutions how to creatively fund R & D and provide associated infrastructure. Partnerships with businesses and state and local government entities could be considered and modeled for other regions and institutions facing the same problems.

Citizen science is another area that the region can lead us through. Citizen scientists actively led and performed research with technologies to map pollutants associated with the Deepwater Horizon spill, for example. This kind of volunteer work, often done in collaboration with research scientists, can enhance local university research and broaden public interest and engagement. It can serve as a force multiplier for both university researchers and resource-strapped state and local governments seeking data about far-flung phenomena. It is also a way for groups to collaborate to address issues that concern them, whether about health, the local environment, or other issues. And it is a proven way to engage students of all ages, which, in the long term, can strengthen the talent pipeline.

3. What kinds of information or data do you need to begin answering these questions for the Gulf States?

Discovering the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute and learning that we can help in targeting questions to the region is both exciting and a reminder of how much more my colleagues and I can better understand the Gulf region. So I would start by understanding the science and technology capacity and potential-to support discussions about

  • the academic research base (including institutions, programs, and faculty and student populations)
  • the science- and technology-related industry base
  • local nonprofits interested in science, technology, and STEM education
  • local citizen scientists, maker spaces, and leaders
  • what local governments and citizens groups see as the most-pressing science and technology concerns.

I look forward to working with Gary and the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute to seek out answers to these questions and hold important and interesting discussions.

4. What was the very first problem or challenge that got you interested in science and technology policy?

Thanks to a summer job, which I took because more-senior grad students told me I would work with really good people (which proved true), I got to learn about automotive fuel economy and the different kinds of standards to which vehicle manufacturers were held.

In this period, I became familiar with the regulatory dance between government and industry, the role of industry structure and how that structure evolved with technology, and the influence of international competition—all of which still concern me as the new director of RAND Science, Technology, and Policy.

The RAND Gulf States Policy Institute provides objective analysis to federal, state, and local leaders in support of evidence-based policymaking and the well-being of individuals throughout the U.S. Gulf States region. We invite your suggestions for researchers, projects, centers, and funding or collaboration opportunities to highlight in future issues. Write to director Gary Cecchine at Gary_Cecchine@rand.org.

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