Science and technology policy: 2020 reading list

Science and technology policy: 2020 reading list

A curated selection of recommendations from scientists, technologists, and advocates

Solutions to important problems require collaboration between the public sector, private sector, and philanthropy — and policymaking pushes that work forward. Science and technology (S&T) policy has helped spur expansion of the internet, development of autonomous vehicles, advancements in medical treatments, and ongoing exploration of space.

This year, scientists, technologists, and advocates are offering their ideas and expertise to a new administration, with hopes of influencing the next few years of S&T policy. We’ve compiled a selection of articles, reports, and recommendations on big-picture topics such as the role of scientists and tech’s impact on society, as well as several urgent issues: COVID-19, climate change, broadband access, and cybersecurity. (The Biden-Harris transition has named COVID-19 and climate change as two of its top four priorities.)

What’s on your S&T policy reading list? Email to share your recommendations. 

General S&T policy

The future of science in America: The election issue (Aspen Institute). Award-winning scientists offer advice to political leaders and make the case for science as a “force for universal progress” and a “framework for understanding and solving shared problems.” Published in advance of the U.S. election this fall, this report provides a range of perspectives on challenges and opportunities — including ideas for restoring trust and confidence in science and health agencies.

The state of U.S. science and engineering 2020 (National Science Board). The National Science Board is required to present a Science and Engineering Indicators report to the President and Congress every second year. It shows that while the U.S. continues to be a world leader in research and development, other nations — particularly China — are rapidly developing their science and technology capacity.

7 ways a Biden administration could impact global technology (Rest of World). An international publication offers an outside view of how U.S. policies could impact social media regulation, semiconductors, employment visas, Chinese apps, digital privacy laws, and antitrust cases.

The role of science and scientists

We need more scientists in the U.S. diplomatic corps (Scientific American). Smithsonian researcher Nick Pyenson and Conservation X co-founder and CEO Alex Dehgan advocate for elevating the role of scientists on the international stage, arguing that “their creativity, entrepreneurialism, and grasp of the complexity of the world are crucial attributes.”

Science and scientists held in high esteem across global publics (Pew Research). Pew’s international survey found that the public generally views scientists and their research in a positive light, and overwhelming majorities value government investment in scientific research. And in most countries, more than half of respondents said governments aren’t doing enough to address climate change.

Tech’s impact on society — from ethics and equity to the future of work

Biden is expected to keep scrutiny of tech front and center (New York Times). Limiting the tech industry’s power is a bipartisan issue, and political insiders expect the incoming administration to pursue existing antitrust lawsuits against Google and possibly introduce cases against Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. Other priorities may include extending broadband service in underserved areas, restoring net neutrality, and protecting digital privacy.

Measurement in AI policy: Opportunities and challenges (arXiv). Researchers from Stanford, OpenAI, and SRI International survey problems and opportunities in the measurement of artificial intelligence systems’ impact and identify six challenges inherent to measuring the progress and impact of AI.

The work of the future: Building better jobs in an age of intelligent machines (MIT). This report affirms there’s little need to worry about robots taking all our jobs — yet. However, it warns that rising tech-enabled productivity is accelerating inequality in an unprecedented way.

How tech can help save NYC: A more inclusive innovation economy can point the way forward (NY Daily News). Michael Samuelian, founding director of the Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech, outlines five ways “urban technologies can bring us together as long as we balance people’s needs and innovation.”

Tough tech and deep tech

Building a 21st-century American economy: The role of tough tech in ensuring shared, sustainable prosperity (MIT/Harvard). The Engine at MIT teamed up with Harvard’s Belfer Center and the Day One Project to push “tough tech” innovation and policy forward. This “tough tech mandate” outlines their recommendations for the next administration.

Tackling the nation’s challenges by doubling down on deep tech (Different Funds). Over the course of researching the state of “deep tech” investment, Different Funds identified potential solutions for jumpstarting innovation, creating millions of jobs, and mitigating future crises.

Pandemic response

Dr. Céline Gounder, adviser to Biden, on the next COVID attack plan (New York Times). Dr. Grounder, a member of President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board, said the incoming administration is considering mask mandates, free testing, and using the Defense Production Act to increase PPE supplies.

Coronavirus disease discriminates. Our health care doesn’t have to (Newsweek). To achieve equity, Dr. Camara Jones recommends a U.S. COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout guided by three core principles: Value all individuals and populations equally, recognize and rectify historical injustices, and provide resources according to need.

America should prepare for a double pandemic (The Atlantic). The novel coronavirus isn’t the only pathogen with pandemic potential, and the idea of two rare events happening simultaneously isn’t far-fetched. The Atlantic’s Ed Yong says to truly prepare for pandemics, the U.S. needs to invest in public-health infrastructure, ensure universal access to care, and dismantle racist systems that worsen health outcomes.

A number of health and life science policy proposals from the Day One Project address America’s COVID-19 response — from countering misinformation and open-sourcing pharmaceutical research to creating an advanced manufacturing collaborative for medical supplies and preventing the next pandemic

Climate change

From climate change awareness to climate crisis action (Open Society Foundations). A survey of more than 10,000 people from across nine countries found that most people believe the climate is changing. But many still underestimate the degree of humanity’s contribution, the severity of the impact, and the overwhelming consensus among scientists. This report provides insights into differing public attitudes and awareness across countries.

Priorities for administrative action on carbon removal in 2021+ (Carbon 180). An organization that advocates for carbon removal solutions published a “transition book” with policy recommendations for the next administration.

In first for Fed, U.S. central bank says climate poses stability risks (Reuters). Last month, the U.S. Federal Reserve named climate change as an economic risk, warning of “abrupt changes in asset values in response to a warming planet.”

An initiative to build the National Climate Bank (Day One Project). Jeffrey Schub’s proposal suggests legislation to establish a nonprofit bank that would fund clean energy and climate-related technologies, spurring $500 billion of private and public investment and creating 5.4 million jobs.

Broadband and connectivity

Energy, water, and broadband: Three services crucial to health equity (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Availability of utility services has an outsized impact on health, and lack of broadband access is a critical predictor of health inequities. RWJF recommends municipal investment in affordable, accessible high-speed internet and offers an example of a community-based network that has helped bring underserved Cleveland residents online.

Opportunities to improve broadband access (CovidX). Supporting remote learning, work, and healthcare — during the pandemic and beyond — will require expanded access to affordable broadband. CovidX looks at why broadband matters and how the U.S. can better understand the access gap, build technology infrastructure, and make broadband more affordable for everyone.

Supporting Equitable Access to Education by Closing the Homework Gap (Day One Project). Amina Fazlullah’s proposal recommends using every available policy tool to make sure all students have home access to the technology tools necessary for education — including individual devices and reliable, high-speed internet services.


A National Secure Electronics Initiative (Day One Project). Eric Breckenfeld’s proposal outlines an opportunity for the U.S. to launch a National Secure Electronics Initiative, achieving levels of security for electronic hardware at the design, manufacturing, and deployment stages.

Securing the nation’s educational technology (Day One Project). Grace Collins’ proposal outlines a plan of action for creating a safer digital learning environment for U.S. students and a more robust edtech marketplace.

Workforce Framework for Cybersecurity (National Institute of Standards and Technology). NIST’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education updated its framework to describe the tasks, knowledge, and skills needed to perform cybersecurity work. It also introduces competencies that could be used in credentialing and work-readiness assessment, offering additional tools for addressing America’s critical shortage of skilled cybersecurity workers.

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Photo by Alexander Popov.



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