The Cost of Access

The Internet has become a platform of societal interaction: an information repository, communication tool, commercial-space, and a location for self-brand promotion. Internet web platforms provide users with petabytes of data at their fingertips, and thus provide opportunities for commerce, research, and societal interaction, all at what appears to be no cost. However, access is not free. When an individual accesses their email, a web search platform, online banking, or any other Internet service, the cost of access is the collateral divulging of data – data that has immense value.

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Lessons Learned in Science and Technology Policy

The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies has, over its twenty-year history, conducted numerous studies on particular issues of science and technology, with recommendations to policymakers as to how to proceed in light of the implications of technical developments. In some cases, the recommendations amounted to investment decisions and policies. In other cases, the recommendations related to policies that are dominated by scientific or technological content. Further, some of the issues relate to national level organizations, while others affect one or more federal or state agencies. There were a variety of lessons learned and common themes that emerged over the years from these studies. This article uses selected examples to illustrate some of these lessons and themes.

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Sword of Heat

In the early '80s, America and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war. After twenty years of the so-called “arms race,” the Soviets had built up their nuclear weapon stockpile from 5,000 to 40,000, while at the same time, in the interest of detente; America had reduced its stockpile from 30,000 to 20,000. Meanwhile, many scientific and political leaders were searching for a high-tech solution to the threat of mutually assured destruction. Some, including President Ronald Reagan, believed the Strategic Defense Initiative or SDI was the answer, but SDI Acting Deputy Director and Chief Scientist Gerold Yonas wasn’t so sure.Today, nearly thirty years after leaving his leadership role in the SDI program, Yonas is writing about his involvement in the creation and evolution of the Star Wars beam weapon program and the role it played in the Soviet Union’s demise. Yonas’s complex tale moves from the quest to develop science fiction-esque space weapons to the need to understand the political and economic factors that shaped decisions in the Soviet Union and the United States. From death rays to deception and disillusionment, Yonas traces the scientific developments, political posturing and psychological battles that led to the end of the Cold War. Yonas provides a unique, firsthand perspective on the scientific achievements and failures, the people, and the politics that shaped this time period and he explores how technological developments that started with Star Wars could become an integral part of ensuring peace today. His account follows.

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Concerns Over the Continued Health and Quality of the US Basic Research Enterprise

While basic research is the foundation for economic and defense effectiveness, recent trends suggest a decline in the quality of the US basic research enterprise. Drawing from a 2012 Defense Science Board (DSB) report on the Department of Defense (DoD) basic research program, this paper considers the issues of globalization of research, lack of educational competitiveness, and bureaucratic burdens as stressors to the US basic research enterprise. Bolder and more worrisome contentions than found in the DSB report, extrapolated beyond DoD basic research, are posited. Possible responses based on the findings are considered, and a commentary on recommendations to policy changes is provided.

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