Dr. Dahlman replied that the United States has a very dynamic peer review system that works much better than those in other countries because of the United States’ large size. It is very difficult to replicate this system in developing countries with very small pools of experts, where the system is subject to all kinds of biases. “When you’re doing research, by definition you don’t know for sure where you’re going to end up,” he remarked, so it is very important “to set up appropriate ways of identifying what you’re targeting and how you know if you’re making progress,” as well as what the impact of the effort might be. He was reluctant, however, to do more than acknowledge how difficult the problem was.
Shiela Ronis of the University Group, which was currently working under contract with the House Small Business Committee, asked Dr. Dahlman whether remaining the leader in science and technology should be a national priority for the United States, and whether it was important to remaining a superpower.
“I think it’s hard to be a leader in everything: There are too many fields, and it’s too complex,” Dr. Dahlman replied, while protesting that the question went beyond his field of competence. In his opinion, the United States should focus on how to remain the leader in selected areas, and these should be not only familiar areas but also areas that, although perhaps less familiar, had potential for the future. The linkages seen among information technology, nanotechnology, and bioengineering seemed to be the beginning of a new wave, one in which many developing countries were beginning to invest quite heavily and in a very systematic way. Consideration should be given to supporting, in addition to space and military technologies, some fundamental technologies that could have big spillover effects.