Archive for the 'OTA on the net' Category

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U.S. Science Remains Far From Its Rightful Place

Laura Sanders | Science News | March 14, 2009

In a column (interview) about the state of U. S. science, Rush Holt (D-NJ) says he is troubled that many people have a bad attitude about science.  He said, “This attitude is seen with the latest stimulus package, where people go on the House floor — members of Congress — and ridicule the idea of funding science. They did!”

To explain why he thinks that science is important, Holt said,

It is from science that we get the innovation that provides productivity and growth for the future economy, so it is critically important for our economic well-being. It also adds to our quality of life in material ways. But I think most scientists still feel that there is a higher calling to what they do, that understanding how things work is an end in itself, and it’s a glorious end in itself.

Where legislators get their science information, according to Rep. Holt:

Well, in many cases, they don’t. They get it from whoever was the last person to visit their office, who may or may not know anything about science….

We should return to vibrancy the Office of Technology Assessment, which was abolished 14 years ago now. OTA was a terrific resource for anticipating the [scientific] questions that were coming up. It worked very well, and we can restore it just as it was, to very good effect.

About plans to reinstate OTA, Holt said, “I try again every year. I’m trying again this year.”

The Bleeding Edge: Tech Predictions for 2009

David P. McClure | The CPA Technology Advisor | January 2009

A recent magazine column scores technology predictions for 2008 and makes new predictions for 2009.  One of the predictions is that a cabinet-level technology officer will be created in the new administration, which is based upon an idea floated by President Obama during his campaign.   Pointing out the need for such an office, the column states, “Since the Congress dismantled the Office of Technology Assessment more than a decade ago, the federal government has been forced to deal with rapidly evolving technologies with little or no independent guidance and no central point from which to make national policies to advance technology utilization. I’m all for changing that.”

Thirteenth Anniversary

It has been thirteen years since the closing of OTA, which was officially closed on September 29, 1995.  Unoffficially, a few people stayed on to finish up some projects and a few people stayed  officially for two more month to clear up the rubble. (I guess that is the answer to your trivia question, Mike.)

The amazing thing is that, thirteen years later, OTA is mentioned in the press almost every day.  It shows that former Congressman Amo Houghton (R-New York) was right when he said, “Those of us who have used OTA reports know that most of them have long shelf lives. The really important issues–the issues OTA worked on–do not get solved and go away in one Congress.”   from In Memoriam: The Office of Technology Assessment, 1972-95

OTA memories

Hidden among the many, many documents related to OTA we’ve received are some real treasures. Today we have photos of some old OTA coffee mugs. Does anyone else have old OTA memorabilia that we could photograph and add to the site? Yours truly is featured in the final shot.

Coverage from Denialism Blog

Posted Aug. 1, 2008

The folks over at denialism blog have a new write-up about the Office of Technology Assessment that mentions the OTA Archive project. The full post is available here.

German OTA releases report on policy options for converging technologies

The U.S. Congress may have defunded OTA in 1995, but the German Parliament has an Office of Technology Assessment (TAB) that is still alive and producing reports. The summary of one of their recent studies, on “converging technologies”, has recently been translated into English. The author describes converging technologies this way:

“The last twenty years have been marked by drastic political events and by spectacular scientific and technical breakthroughs (such as in the life sciences) and innovations (such as in the case of the Internet). Just as noteworthy in hindsight, however, is the fact that these years appear as a period in which far-reaching technology visions once again attracted serious attention in parts of the scientific community, among politicians, and in the public. In the current discussions about these visions, which were sparked in fields such as nanotechnology and brain research, both cautioners and optimists predict fundamental changes in society, civilisation, and “human nature”.

The debate about “converging technologies” (CT) has to be seen in this context. It has been driven primarily by research policy actors and by experts from various disciplines, and is part of a more comprehensive political and social discourse on nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communications technology (ICT), brain research, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and the sciences that deal with these topics. “Convergence” is an umbrella term for predictions ranging from an increase in synergetic effects to a merging of these fields, and for demands for government funding of research and development where these fields overlap.

The first CT initiative was started in the United States in 2001 in connection with activities concerning social, legal, and ethical aspects of nanotechnology. The primary participants in this initiative were the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce, and it received the support, for example, of some of those in military research. Some of the features of this initiative, which despite its nonofficial character is often viewed as an official government initiative, triggered some very controversial discussions. The subject was even picked up by some of the mass media, nongovernmental organisations (NGO), and private enterprises. For analytical purposes, we can distinguish between:

  • A debate that started in the United States, bundled various social conflicts concerning science and technology, and focused on “human enhancement”, i.e., the artificial improvement of an individual’s capacities, and on far-reaching visions of the future of humanity;
  • The discussions about CT research policy in a narrower sense and the related scientific and technological activities. Here too the starting point was in the United States, but the main participants driving this field are now located in Europe.”

The entire report (in German) can be found here.
Click here for a brief summary and here for an extended article about this new TAB report posted on