Testimony of James C. McGroddy
Retired Senior Vice President, Research, IBM Corporation
Committee on Science
U.S. House of Representatives
March 11, 1998
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is James C. McGroddy, and I am a retired senior vice president, research, of the IBM corporation. I was employed at IBM for over thirty years, most of this in its Research organization. From 1989 to the beginning of 1996 I was responsible for the worldwide IBM Research organization, consisting of over 2500 technical professionals in seven laboratories around the world. I retired from IBM at the end of 1996, and my current focus is public service activities, the majority of which are with the US government and universities. Among other activities, I am currently the chairperson of the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a member of the National Research Council's Government-University Industry Research Roundtable, and a member of a number of university "visiting committees".
I would like to thank the Committee for inviting me to testify before these important hearings, and I hope that my discussion of some of what I have learned both in industry and through contact with government laboratories and universities about the effective management of scientific research programs will assist the Committee in its important work.
The question of the degree of management which is appropriate for the scientific enterprise is one which is currently the subject of much debate. By management, I mean a set of processes external to the individual scientist, although usually involving him or her deeply, which affect the allocation at various levels of resources, the prioritization of fields and projects, the evaluation of progress and results, and the evolution of agendas, institutions and individuals involved in the scientific process. In my view, clear thinking in this area is often inhibited by much of the current terminology. Terms such as "unfettered research", "curiosity-driven science" and "strategic research" are but a few that come to mind. In what follows I hope to share what I have learned over my career as a scientist and a manager of scientists about the management of science and the scientific enterprise .
Over fifty years ago the rationale for major federal funding of science was set out with great clarity in Vannevar Bush's report to President Truman, "Science, the Endless Frontier". This report motivated the public funding of science by its demonstrated and projected huge positive impact on a strong national defense capability, enhanced health of the citizenry, and national economic performance resulting in high quality jobs. The payoff has been and continues to be enormous. Science has provided much of the root structure for technological revolution in many fields, and has delivered on the other goals as well. I know of no serious student of history who would today substantively revise Bush's rationale or conclusions in any major way, other than perhaps to add a fourth area of impact, the improvement of our management of our environment.
Given that there is no question that science, funded by the federal government as well as by others, has proven of enormous benefit to the nation, one can reasonably ask about the positive or negative effects produced by the various mechanisms in place by which science is managed. Peer review, a mechanism explicitly internal to the scientific community, has clearly been and continues to be a major element of the success of science itself, science in its own terms. But peer review is not in itself sufficient. I believe that the history of the scientific roots of the technological revolution, as represented for example by the microelectronics industry, the key enabler if the information revolution, will show that science has also benefited, both in the quality of science itself, and most certainly, in its ability to contribute to Bush's three goal areas, by a number of mechanisms which couple the science to its larger societal goals. When science is effectively managed, via a collaborative effort of the scientists themselves and their supporting and benefiting constituencies (or their surrogates), we get the best of both worlds.
My experience as a scientist, doing first relatively basic, then more applied, research, and as a manager of scientists, leads me to propose three principles which can be used to develop an effective system for the management of science. Such a system must deal with the allocation of resources at various levels, based on expected impact; it must contain a system for the measurement of progress and the evaluation of results achieved, both as science, and in terms of impact on society; and it must embed mechanisms for increasing the effectiveness of the investments made, both in the quality of results achieved and the pace at which they are achieved. The system which we evolved over a number of years during my tenure as head of Research at IBM appears to me to have accomplished these goals, building on the three principles discussed below. This management system is documented in detail in a 1995 National Research Council report entitled " Research Restructuring and Assessment : Can We Apply the Corporate Experience to Government Agencies ?" I have provided a number of reprints of the appropriate sections of this report for the Committee's use.
The three principles which I believe provide the basis for developing an effective management system for science, one which provides the necessary freedom and flexibility for work at the limits of the human imagination, as well as the stimulation and coupling which increase the likelihood and pace of resultant impact, are described below.
Science is not so different from other human activities that it cannot benefit from external inputs, from management. And science is too critical to our economic success for it to be shortchanged either in the level of resources we devote to it as a nation, or the wisdom with which we manage this critical resource, this large investment. Science, and its benefits, have become increasingly internationalized, and the world in which science is embedded has changed radically. We must as a nation ensure that, at an output level, we maintain an effective and broad scientific enterprise. We must get away from debates which focus only on inputs, which transmogrify progress in the pace of technological exploitation of science into death notices for basic research. And as we expand the resources which the nation devotes to the scientific enterprise, we must , both in the scientific community and as a nation, commit to continuously improving the quality and efficacy of that science. Creative and innovative management has made dramatic improvements in almost every sector of our society, and there is no reason to believe that similar progress cannot be made in science.
I found it revealing to read the most recent issue of the IEEE Proceedings, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the invention of the transistor. This issue contains reprints of some of the original papers by Shockley and his team at Bell labs, as well as papers pointing to what might lie beyond semiconductors in providing the ten-times-every-five-years progress we have come to expect in this area, and which has contributed so much to our economy. What is very clear is that the transistor resulted from an extremely creatively managed mix of science and downstream objectives. The initial results were published in the world's most prestigious Physics journal, the Physical Review, and the Nobel Prize followed. I think that no-one would dare to argue that the science was diminished in value as science by the connection to a bold technological objective. In this same issue , there is a paper which builds on two recent Nobel-winning pieces of science, the scanning tunneling microscope and carbon buckeyballs, and points to what might become molecular-level transistors, continuing the remarkable progress of digital chip technology well into the next century. Science is truly the root system of technology, and the management of science is an important lever to enhance the connection of the roots to the tree.