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Loka Institute Study Finds U.S. Research Establishment Overlooks Grassroots R&D Needs

    "Recommends Constructing National Network of Community-Based Research Centers Patterned on European 'Science Shops'"

Steve Wattenmaker            July 22, 1998
(202) 955-1276

WASHINGTON, D.C. ­ At a news conference here today, the Amherst-based Loka Institute released an 18-month study that examined community access to research dollars, facilities, and personnel throughout the United States. The study found that public and private research institutions routinely by-pass community involvement in determining the need for and in conducting research. A "preposterous mismatch" exists between the United States' well-endowed, mainstream R&D agenda and the urgent needs of communities across the country, the study concluded.

Urging a change in that policy, the Loka study estimated that the price tag for a nationwide, community-based research system would be $450 million a year.

"We live in an era of decentralized government, yet communities can't get their hands on the resources they need to fend for themselves," said Loka Institute Executive Director Dr. Richard Sclove. "We found that communities face unmet needs for research in everything from epidemiological investigation of leukemia clusters to allocation of municipal services and industrial revitalization."

The $450 million required annually to fund a U.S. community research network represents only 2% of the current annual budget of all U.S. government laboratories, Dr. Sclove added.

Titled "Community-Based Research in the United States," the Loka Institute study was funded with grants from The Aspen Institute's Nonprofit Sector Research Fund and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Richard Sclove, Madeleine Scammell, and Breena Holland authored the report.

"The need for a network of community-based researchers and partners is palpable," author and professor Daryl Chubin told the news conference. Dr. Chubin currently serves as a division director of the National Science Foundation. "It is the kind of work that private foundations and even a few multidisciplinary programs at fundamental research institutions have begun to support."

Other participants in the news conference included: Larry Wilson, Coordinator of Appalachian Focus in Kentucky; Walda Katz-Fishman, Board Chair of Project South in Atlanta; Carolyn Raffensperger, Director, Science and Environmental Health Network; Madeleine Scammell, Loka Institute Deputy Director; and Jonathan King, Professor of Microbiology, M.I.T. The Loka report included twelve case studies of community-based research efforts in Woburn, MA; Jacksonville, FL; Philadelphia, PA; Chicago, IL; Minneapolis, MN; Fairbanks, AK; Atlanta, GA; Yellow Creek, KY; Toledo, OH; and among Native Americans in Nevada, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. In addition, it contrasted the successful Dutch "science shop" model with the highly centralized U.S. research establishment.

In a statement released at the news conference, Rep. George Brown, ranking minority member of the House Science Committee, endorsed the study's findings: "This report explores ways to achieve the involvement of the lay public in science and technology issues that affect them. This is what many of us in the policy arena have been advocating for some time, a better mixing of the scientific community and the general public."

Walda Katz-Fishman, Howard University Professor and Board Chair of Atlanta-based Project South, told the news conference that community-based research "provided the horsepower" that fueled major exposés of money and politics in Georgia. "Our studies documented the real sources of political money and resulting voter discrimination in Georgia," Dr. Katz-Fishman said. "Our research is widely recognized as contributing to the beginning of serious reform in Georgia politics."

Commenting on the Loka Institute study, W.K Kellogg Foundation Senior Vice President for Programs and former Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Anne Petersen said, The traditional voices in R&D priorities have been industry, military, and government more generally. They have shaped the current research agenda. With the end of the cold War, many have acknowledged that we need to base research priorities on societal needs. I believe that those priorities would be quite different from those we have currently."