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Mr. Brown. Let's pause for just a moment and see if there are any questions.
We can always come back for questions later but I wanted to just ask if you are familiar with this latest GAO report, "Better Communications Can Help Clear Up Research Over Silly Research Grants”! I am sure you are.
Dr. CLARK. It was delivered last night about 5 minutes to 5 o'clock.
Mr. Brown. It probably is too early to ask if you have any comments with regard to the report but I assume that to the degree we can improve our communication, we would agree this is a desirable thing to do and that when people respond with the concept or the attitude that a NSF grant is silly because of the title, obviously, poor communications exist there.
If I may cite an important example from testimony which you just gave, you referred to the funding of the contributions of Islamic science which is a very important area. I noted a series of articles on this, in a recent issue of Nature magazine, and, yet, I am not at all sure phrasing it like that is the best way to communicate the purpose of that research. The first reaction of the good Christians I am not saying how justified it is—is there is no such thing as Islamic science. They are a bunch of heathens, and can't be very scientific. They, of course, think the same thing about the Christians—I am not going to be biased here.
But, I was just thinking, if that could be phrased as a “contribution of science and Islamic cultures" or "Islamic countries," it might have evolved a better response on the part of some parochial people.
Dr. CLARK. Your point is well taken.
Mr. Brown. I am not really intending it to apply to this particular area but just to suggest that any title can be looked at from the standpoint of how it is going to communicate the real purpose. Will it be received as something silly or something not silly?
If you just look at it a minute, I think, generally speaking you can improve the communication in almost any situation, including putting in language that more people can better understand, which is the diffi culty that I have.
Now, that is not much of a question.
I think we will go ahead then and let you proceed with the additional witnesses.
Dr. CLARK. If I may then, before the first presentation, I would like to bring a recent editorial from Science magazine to your attention. The February 22, 1980, issue, carries an editorial entitled, "Federal Support in the Social Sciences,” prepared by Dr. Atkinson. I would like to insert it in the record.
Mr. Brown. He has time to write editorials, too?
Mr. Brown. Without objection, you may insert it into the record, at this point.
[The document referred to above, is as follows:]
FEDERAL SUPPORT IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES The debate regarding the federal role in the support of social science research is long-standing and tends to intensify at this time of year as Congress begins its annual examination of the President's budget. There are supporters of the social sciences in Congress, but there are also vigorous critics. Criticism follows two contradictory lines of argument. In the first, social science research is regarded as irrelevant to societal needs and, therefore, a waste of taxpayers' dollars. The contrary argument is that the social sciences are all too relevantleading to social engineering and manipulation of moral values—and should not be encouraged, let alone supported. Both of these views create difficulties for those who argue for increased support for social science research.
How has this debate affected federal funding for the social sciences ? The facts are surprising. As a percent of the federal budget for both basic and applied research, the social sciences defined in the National Science Foundation data base as anthropology, economics, political sciences, geography, and sociologyhave remained remarkably constant at 5 percent of the total for well over a decade. A somewhat different picture emerges, however, if one examines where the research is performed (in colleges and universities, independent nonprofit organizations, industry, or government laboratories). Consider, for example, federal funds for basic research. Across all fields of science, the percentage of basic research performed at academic institutions has been roughly constant at 48 percent since 1973—the first year such data were collected. In contrast, 60 percent of basic research in the social sciences was performed at academic institutions in 1973, but that number had decreased to 47 percent by 1978. The cumulative impact is significant: from 1973 to 1979, federal funds for basic research at colleges and universities in all scientific fields increased 97 percent; in social sciences the increase was 37 percent. The same trends hold for federally supported applied research and for the composite of basic and applied research.
Setting aside questions about the classification of basic and applied research and possible spillovers from developmental work, these data indicate a shift of social science research away from academic institutions. We will have to know more about the nonacademic performers and the research they are doing before the trends can be interpreted. We do know that the job market is a factor. Although faculty positions in the social sciences have increased at about the same rate as the average for all fields of science, the number of new social science Ph.D.'s requires that many seek employment outside universities. Another factor may be that federal agencies are exercising more control over the content and climate of research. Professor Theodore Schultz, the University of Chicago's most recent Nobel Laureate in Economics, has commented on the distortions in economic research introduced by the influence of patrons-federal and private and the resultant decline in academic research with no readily apparent utility. Constrained by the criticisms mentioned above, funding agencies may be trying to ensure that the relevance of the social science they support is easily justified and, at the same time, poses no threat to society's values.
The shift away from academia in the social sciences has consequences for graduate education, for methodological work, and for the balance between fundamental and policy-oriented research. A case can be made that the shift has been beneficial for certain specialties and has strengthened links between academia and the real world. Whatever the judgment, it is important that we be aware of what is taking place and consider the consequences in planning for the future.-RICHARD C. ATKINSON, Director, National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C. 20550
Dr. Clark. The first report, rather, each of the reports will provide only selected highlights from a broad range of research activities. The first presentation will describe contributions in understanding brain function and behavior that arise from the use of obscure animals. The foundation provides about 10 percent of the Federal support to basic neural science research, but this amount is catalytic through its support of new approaches, methodologies, and novel model systems.
Dr. Dennis Willows, on leave from the University of Washington in Seattle, is currently serving as program director for neurobiology.
Dr. Willows will give us a glimpse of some of the exciting uses of these organisms in behavioral research.
Mr. Brown. Dr. Willows, I would just like to ask you—in making your presentation, to put yourself in our position and try and communicate as effectively as possible to help meet our problems.
Dr. WILLOWS. Mr. Chairman, I have seen the film from the floor debate of last spring; I think I understand the situation, and I will try to provide some of the material that you need.
STATEMENT OF DR. DENNIS WILLOWS, DIRECTOR, NEUROBIOLOGY
PROGRAM, NSF Dr. WILLOWS. Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee, neurobiology is a new science relative to many of the others that you are familiar with. It has undergone an extraordinary amount of growth over the past decade. The number of people who are practitioners of that science have roughly multiplied by 10.
One of the reasons for that is that scientists have moved into the field from a variety of traditional disciplines: from medical sciences, from biological sciences, from physics, chemistry, and psychology. And you may wonder, why the influx! Why the growth? It is simple. It is because of success.
There has been an extraordinary amount of success in determining basic relationships between nerve cells and the brain and between the brain and behavior during that period. I think there is the sense among the many people who work in the field that there are some dramatic findings on the very near horizon and they want to be part of them.
The influx of scientists from different areas has brought with it also part of the strength of those fields; that is, these people who have moved in from biological and other sciences have brought with them a variety of techniques for tackling a very difficult problem of the brain.
We are now free to approach the nervous system from a broad range of different techniques, including some which are model systems. That is to say some people have brought with them the idea that we can use simpler ways to solve hard problems rather than taking the brute force, the direct approach, to problems in the brain. I will elaborate, as we proceed.
If I may, I would like to cite, for the record, a number of examples of particularly useful model systems in studying brain-behavior relationships but here, to save time, I will describe, in detail, just a couple of them.
Had tax money in the 1930's been committed to supporting a study entitled, “How the Squid Controls Its Jet-Like Escape Behavior,” I suspect that there might have been some questions raised, some curious questions raised about why the money was being spent. Indeed, there may have been even articles in the press suggesting, in an entertainment form, that the money might have been spent better other ways. But it is now perfectly clear to those of us in neurological research that that work has enabled the following critically important developments.
First, the discovery that the squid has the largest nerve in the animal kingdom. The nerve which permits the jet-like escape response is about the size of a pencil lead in diameter and several inches long.
Second, the fact of the existence of that big nerve means that neurobiologists have been permitted—indeed there has been some Nobel Prize winning research done—to determine how nerve electricity comes about, how nerve impulses are transmitted along nerves. Where does that lead ?
That leads, first, to an understanding of a whole variety of central nervous system disorders which we otherwise wouldn't have and, in addition, understanding how anesthetics work, how to make better anesthetics, how nerve toxins work, and an understanding of the actions of the venoms from a variety of snakes and scorpions. They make their actions on the control of electrical activity in nerves. They are now fully understood and, in many cases, can be dealt with rationally.
In part, due to that kind of work, but also to a lot of other publicly and privately supported work over the past 30 to 50 years, it has now become very clear-indeed, and this is very important that the nerve cells of all animals from humans down to and including the lowest forms of life in the animal kingdom, are fundamentally identical in terms of their electrical, chemical, and membrane properties. They are similar enough that we can often solve very difficult human and mammalian nervous system problems by using model systems from these lower animals where the experiments are easier to do. Let me give you some numbers which will emphasize that point.
The brain in the human being has on the order of 50 billion neurons, give or take a few depending upon age and other things. The brain of fish has several orders of magnitude fewer cells, around 100 million, and insects have even fewer-a million or so. The lowly slug, the marine sea slug—and I will show you an example—has something like 10,000 neurons in its brain. We have come from 50 billion down to 10,000.
If we compare cell size, the size of the neurons in the brain, in the human case, they are something of the order of 10 micrometers. That is very small, 20 wavelengths of visible light. It is too small to see.
As we go down through the same series of animals, we end up with the slug that has nerve cells 1,000 micrometers in diameter. This is very large, and the message in those numbers is very clear.
You can put a million human brain cells inside a single nerve cell of the brain of the slug. That suggests to neuroscientists that if there is a problem which requires studying cellular processes—electrical properties, chemical properties, the connections between cells that regulate behavior—it makes sense to go looking for an animal where those cells are accessible to electrode penetration, to chemical manipulations.
Now, my second and last specific example is the unusual contribution to neuroscience made by the marine slug, the bottom animal on that list I mentioned a few moments ago. There are cells which are enormous in the brain of this animal. You can see them with the naked eye. With a low-powered microscope, you can see cells all over the surfaces of these brains, clearly set out from one another and reidentifiable as individuals from animal to animal.
Let me show you an example, if I may have the lights off for just a second.
This animal is a tropical marine slug. It is about a foot long. It has some interesting behavior, believe it or not. It is capable of swimming, and carrying out a variety of simple acts, but some complex ones as well. It is probably capable of learning simple tasks. But the important thing about it is that if we look at its nervous system and that is what you are seeing now—this is its living nervous system—the nervous system extends from here, over to here, and it is covered with readily visible nerve cells. The brain is all of the orange material and the nerves carrying information out to the periphery of the animal are here, here and other places.
But look here at this large globular structure. Each of those spheres is about 1,000 micrometers in diameter, about the size of a dot at the end of a sentence in a typed paragraph. Each of those is a single neuron and fortunately, if you go from animal to animal in that species, you can find those same cells in the same places. What's more, you can record from them, stimulate them. You can dissect them one at a time; that is, reach in with tiny forceps and pick them off the brain, put them into test-tubes, study their chemistry, to learn what they are producing and what they are doing.
Needless to say, those same tasks would be very difficult to perform in most other animals.
This shows you a recording situation where, in fact, I had the brain immobilized on a platform, in a living animal and was recording, through the black-colored electrodes—there are six of them distributed around it. Here, here and here. And each of them is penetrating and recording from a single identified cell, in the brain.
Again, that is the kind of opportunity that model systems provide for the study of the wiring, and the chemistry of single brain cells.
The results of these kinds of studies have been reported in several published forms, but you may have heard and may have noticed them in the popular press lately. For instance, in the Washington Post in early January, there was a front-page article entitled “Dramatic Strides Being Made in Brain Chemistry." That article pointed out how some new protein materials called "enkephalins” have been found in the mammalian nervous system and are almost certainly going to revolutionize medical treatment and understanding of the human brain because they are thought to control pain and depression, schizophrenia, drug addiction and a variety of derangements of the nervous system.
What has been found is where these substances are being produced in the brain. We also know where they act, but we do not know how they act. That is the crux of the matter, and I would suggest to you that given large cells and brains like the models I have just shown you, we have an ideal opportunity to go to look. Scientists in these fields know now that they can explore tough questions about membrane action of the enkephalins using a number of model systems.
Finally, let me say that, in the fascinating area of how does the brain learn, there are some extraordinary opportunities for simple system use. You can, in a system like the one I have just described involving the marine slug, record and stimulate from brain cells while an animal is learning a task and find out what changes, in the chemistry, and in the electrical activity of the cells, are going on.
It is an unheard of opportunity, at least in these simple terms, and it is likely to make a big difference as to what happens to neuroscience over the next 5 to 10 years.