Dear Friends of the National Academies,

As we welcome a new year and a new decade, we can make one prediction with certainty — profound change lies ahead. We enter the 2020s as long-standing geopolitical alliances are shifting; big data, artificial intelligence, and the very nature of information are transforming the way we live and work; and the effects of climate change are impacting many millions around the world.

Yet, along with great change comes great opportunity: the chance to help shape the future through science and evidence. For many decades, the independent, expert advice of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has helped guide policies that have led to tremendous growth and prosperity in the U.S. and globally. Although many complex challenges are before us, we are confident that research and innovation in science, engineering, and medicine will lead the way to valuable progress for all of society.

“Although many complex challenges are before us, we are confident that research and innovation in science, engineering, and medicine will lead the way to valuable progress for all of society.”

This year, the National Academies are initiating or completing timely studies on advancing research for climate intervention strategies to help cool the planet, accelerating a carbon-free economy, and strengthening the nation’s electric power infrastructure. We will be examining U.S. economic competitiveness in the global economy and have charted a course for the future of biotechnology. We will identify strategies to implement high-quality primary care and reverse a recent and alarming increase in premature death for Americans. We will advise on how cities and states can make mobility more seamless by better integrating existing transportation infrastructure with the increase in modes of personal travel such as ride-sharing. And through our Gulf Research Program, we are bringing together representatives from government agencies, industry, and communities this spring to participate in a first-ever simulated “Offshore Situation Room” to explore how to prevent and improve the ways we respond to and recover from an offshore oil disaster.

With the U.S. population over age 65 projected to double by 2060, we are focusing on how to adjust to this new demographic reality by examining employment and the aging workforce, recommending a decadal research agenda to fight Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias common in later life, and pinpointing opportunities for the health care system to address growing social isolation and loneliness in older adults. Indeed, with the worldwide population of the “oldest old” (people ages 80 and older) expected to more than triple by 2050, the National Academy of Medicine recently launched a global initiative on healthy longevity with the aim of sparking innovative, multidisciplinary approaches to help transform aging and ensure lifelong health, function, and productivity.

Injecting Evidence into Public Policy and Discourse

Of course, 2020 is an election year in the U.S., which can add uncertainty on the policy front. Here in Washington, D.C., the National Academies have navigated the fractious political environment by maintaining strong relationships with members of Congress in both parties and with the executive branch agencies, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Decision-makers rely on our expert, objective advice for many challenging policy issues with science and technology at their core — as demonstrated by FY 2020 federal appropriations and defense authorization legislation, which will put into motion several new National Academies activities, ranging from developing ways to measure transportation resiliency in the event of natural disasters, to protecting American research and academic investments while ensuring academic openness, to examining the medical and economic impacts of pathogens that are increasingly resistant to antimicrobials.

The Academies also have the responsibility to convey to the public the importance and value of research and evidence in their everyday lives. Last November, the NAS hosted the first-ever TED@NAS, an exciting day of original science-centered TED Talks. The event brought together many diverse perspectives to celebrate science, inspire ideas and insights, and catalyze progress. And in these polarizing times, when science itself can become politicized, misinformation spreads quickly, and expertise is not trusted in some sectors, we are communicating in new ways directly to the public about the evidence on vaccine safety, climate change and extreme weather, and other issues prominent in public discourse. In February, for instance, we will host MisinfoCon@NASEM, which will bring together researchers, media content providers, and technology developers across platforms to discuss ways to build science and health literacy in the public and combat misleading or false information.

See Related Resources Below

Building New and Stronger International Collaboration

Amid shifting geopolitical alliances, the National Academies are working hard to continue to forge and strengthen our global partnerships. Increasingly, science, engineering, and medicine are international enterprises, and the challenges faced by one nation are shared by many. One such area is the emerging field of human genome editing. Since 2015, the NAS and NAM have convened two high-profile international summits to cultivate scientific, regulatory, and ethical principles to guide the development and use of new genome editing technologies. This year, an international commission — led by the NAM, NAS, and the Royal Society of the U.K. and with the participation of science academies around the world — will release a report that identifies clear scientific and technical requirements that should be met for any potential clinical application of heritable genome editing to go forward, should society deem it acceptable.

The NAE is continuing to collaborate with the engineering academies of the U.K. and China on a series of Global Grand Challenges summits designed to ignite international cooperation on the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering. New programmatic direction of the NAE will focus on issues that require broad international engagement. These include instilling a culture of ethical and environmental responsibility in engineering, and improving educational and professional capabilities for complex systems engineering. The Global Grand Challenge in Healthy Longevity that NAM launched this year will consist of a roadmap report by an international commission that will contain recommendations on health, the socio-economic determinants of health, and science and policy; and a global competition that will engage 49 countries and territories to catalyze innovation in science and technology.

And in late April, the NAS will hold the first-ever global Nobel Prize Summit. Hosted by the Nobel Foundation in partnership with the NAS, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Stockholm Resilience Centre/Beijer Institute, the summit, “Our Planet, Our Future,” will gather together Nobel laureates and other world-renowned experts to advance new insights into global sustainable development and explore actions to ensure humanity’s future on a prosperous, stable, and resilient planet. The summit will build upon the successful celebrations of Nobel Prize and Kavli Prize laureates that the NAS has hosted in the previous past two years.

See Related Resources Below

Modernizing the Academies

As the nation and the world change, the National Academies must also evolve to stay relevant in a dynamic, rapidly shifting policy environment. To that end, we are making progress on our effort to transform our processes and products, and this year, we are undertaking extensive strategic planning to ensure that we continue to deliver the authoritative advice for which we are known in ways that are more actionable, timely, and responsive to the needs of policymakers and the public.

The NAS, NAE, and NAM are also modernizing. For instance, the Academies have each established a first-ever code of conduct for our members. We also have made concerted efforts to increase the diversity of our elected membership across many categories, including race and ethnicity, gender, age, and geographic distribution. And we are beginning to see results — last year, the three Academies elected record numbers of women. Meanwhile, the number of new members born outside the United States continues to reflect the importance of immigrants to our nation’s success.

2020 will also mark some important anniversaries. The NAM (formerly the IOM) will celebrate 50 years of service to the nation under the theme “Celebrating a legacy of impact. Forging a healthier future.” Publications and scientific symposia are planned throughout the year to bring greater visibility not only to the NAM but also to the broader health portfolio and interdisciplinary expertise of the National Academies. And in February, the National Academies are hosting a symposium marking the 75th anniversary of the publication of Science: The Endless Frontier, the landmark report by Vannevar Bush that provided the foundation on which much of our modern research enterprise is built. The symposium will examine how science is changing and how the modern research architecture could be restructured and reimagined to ensure another era of remarkable achievements.

We are excited about these opportunities and many more in this new year. None of it would be possible without the invaluable contributions and support of our members, volunteers, staff, study sponsors, and philanthropic partners. Thank you for your commitment to our mission. We hope you will join us in kicking off a new decade of progress and prosperity made possible through science, engineering, and medicine.

Marcia McNutt

President, National Academy of Sciences
John L. Anderson
President, National Academy of Engineering
Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine


Related Resources:

Climate Intervention Strategies That Reflect Sunlight to Cool Earth
The Future of Electric Power in the United States
Science and Innovation Leadership for the 21st Century: Challenges and Strategic Implications for the United States
Safeguarding the Bioeconomy
Implementing High-Quality Primary Care
Rising Midlife Mortality Rates and Socioeconomic Disparities
The Role of Public Transportation and Mobility Management in an Era of New and Expanding Shared Mobility Options
Gulf Research Program Offshore Situation Room
Decadal Survey of Behavioral and Social Science Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Dementias
The Health and Medical Dimensions of Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults
NAM Healthy Longevity Global Grand Challenge
International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing
NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering
Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future
IOM/NAM 50th Anniversary

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