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National Medal of Science Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony.

January 14, 1980

This morning, as Dr. Press and I were discussing those who will be honored today, and what they've meant to our country and indeed the world, it was a sobering conversation for us both. We talked about the tens of billions of dollars of new investment that has been made in industry and the sciences and other elements of life; the tens of millions of jobs that have been created by these people; the millions of lives that have been saved, not only in our own country but all over the world. And I, as President of a great country, am honored this morning to participate in this ceremony.

We are in the midst of an age of discovery not of continents, but of new knowledge. Men and women are pushing back the walls of ignorance about the smallest subatomic particles; about the universe, in the farthest reaches of space; about the sea and the air; .about the human body; the Earth, its plants and minerals; about our own brains.

Many have feared that mankind's destruction might come, as Winston Churchill put it, on the gleaming wing of science. If we come to that, it will not be because we dared to seek new knowledge, but it will be because we don't have enough of it. We cannot stop seeking knowledge just because the fire which we have discovered might burn. We must learn to control the fire.

Controlling the fire lies not only in the hands of scientists but of every person in our Nation and throughout the world. We do not know enough, but we do know far more than when the Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959. We know far more than was known when men like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson struggled to create a nation where the human mind would be free to study and to learn and to experiment and to pursue the truth, wherever it might lead.

It's a time, as those honored here today have proven, when a single, disciplined, searching human being can make contributions that affect the lives of people throughout the world, that change the way we live and change the way we think. It's a time too when sharing knowledge is essential, because so much depends on knowing and understanding the other pieces of the human and natural puzzle.

Ours is a time when a supportive and a free society is crucial, because of a need for financial and institutional support, and also because of the fundamental benefits of freedom. The spirit of discovery and exploration is best nurtured in a climate where thought and research are unfettered by a state-imposed preconception of where the truth might be found; in the older lessons of history they are sometimes forgotten.

But we've seen recent examples of what repression does to material progress, as well as what it does to the human spirit. China today is grappling with the damage done to a whole generation, perhaps two generations, by the restraints on or the closing of its universities and its laboratories. The Soviet Union, despite its enormous investment in science and technology, still trails the West in many fields which it recognizes to be crucial. Even with its avid efforts to identify scientific talent early and to develop it and to exploit it, its repressive political system still stunts scientific progress.

Knowledge knows no national boundaries, but it feeds on the free exchange of ideas, in a climate that encourages experimentation and innovation. Each President, like myself, has a duty to deal with the conditions .and crises of the moment; but we also have a duty as Presidents to provide for the needs and for the opportunities of the future.

Among the opportunities provided by the creation of the new Department of Education, for instance, is the chance to strengthen scientific education throughout the United States, at .all levels of education. We intend to take advantage of that new opportunity. In addition, we've instituted apprenticeship programs, to allow university scientists .and engineers to bring young people who might not otherwise have this opportunity, like minority young people and women, into their laboratories and classrooms to learn.

With the invaluable help of scientists, engineers, and administrators within the Government, I've endeavored to ensure adequate Government support of our Nation's research and development activities, and to encourage industrial innovation. For almost a decade, Government investment in science and technology, particularly in basic research, has been too low. During the last few years, however, we have been able to rebuild Federal support for research and development, a process now showing substantial, beneficial results.

With my proposed budget for fiscal year 1981, we will have increased Federal support, since I've been President, of basic research by 40 percent. We've renewed the emphasis on basic .research, also, in all agencies of Government, not just a few. We've expanded research and development programs in energy, of course, and ensured a balance among promising technologies, including solar energy and the more advanced technologies.

Most recently, we've turned particular attention to basic research in the physical sciences and engineering, which suffered a net loss of Federal support in real dollars over the past 20 years. My budget for 1981 also strengthens support in this vital area.

I've also directed a major review of industrial innovation, paying particular attention to the needs and the problems of small, high technology businesses, which have fostered, in a special way, innovative ideas in the past. In a recent message to the Congress I outlined a number of steps that will improve the climate of innovation. These include changes in the patent system and in regulatory practices that have in the past and still inhibit innovation.

Other proposals will strengthen cooperation between industry and the academic community in research, and establish State or regional corporations to encourage new technological developments.

In the heart of scientific enterprise is the creative work of individual scientists and engineers. Today we are honoring 20 individuals whose work has had a profound impact on our world, from the computer chip to high octane, no-lead gasoline, to safer, more practical structural design, and surgical repair of human nerves.

In honoring them, we also honor the search for knowledge and for understanding, and we also honor the freedom to continue that search. I cannot predict, of course, the scientific or technological changes that will come in the next century. I am certain, however, that one of the most important things we can do now is to support that search, to honor great achievement, and to prepare those who will, under freedom, carry on the search in the future for truth and for knowledge.

Thank you very much. I'm very grateful to have you here.

[At this point, Frank Press, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, announced the recipients and cited their achievements as the President presented the awards. The President then resumed speaking as follows.]

I'd like to ask the honorees to stay seated and let the rest of us stand up and give them a round of applause in appreciation of what they've done. [Applause] Come on up for a photograph together, if you don't mind.

Well, they've honored our country, and they've honored me by being here this morning. And I know that all of you sham my pride in what they have accomplished already and what they are going to accomplish in the future.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:08 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.

The recipients of the National Medal of Science for 1979 were: Robert Harza Burris, Elizabeth C. Crosby, Arthur Kornberg, Severo Ochoa, Earl Reece Stadtman, George Ledyard Stebbins, and Paul A. Weiss in the field of biological sciences; Emmett N. Leith, Raymond D. Mindlin, Robert N. Noyce, Earl R. Parker, and Simon Ramo in the field of engineering sciences; Joseph L. Doob and Donald Ervin Knuth in the field of mathematical sciences; and Richard Phillips Feynman, Herman F. Mark, Edward Mills Purcell, John H. Sinfelt, Lyman Spitzer, Jr., and Victor F. Weisskopf in the field of physical sciences.

Jimmy Carter, National Medal of Science Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249423

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