Transcript of presentation of National Science Board Distinguished Service Award to Richard Zare, Washington DC




AUGUST 12, 1998


I am very happy to welcome you to this Board dinner and am delighted that 
so many DPG members are able to attend. Tonight we are here to recognize 
Dick Zare who served NSB as its Chairman with distinction and 
unquestioned uniqueness.

I feel confident that Dick will remain one of our best friends in the 
community, and will keep in touch. As a matter of fact, Dick has been good 
about communicating, and a few months ago sent us a picture e‹ mail 
from London that contained a not‹so‹subtle reminder.

We urge him to keep those messages of encouragement coming.
As your colleagues on the National Science Board, Dick, we feel it is our 
privilege to honor you for your contributions to the success of this body 
during the 11Zare era.²

The last two years have been memorable, challenging, and unusually 
productive for us in meeting our commitments as the Nation¹s science 
policy Board, as well as the governing board for NSF.

But more than that, you have enabled us to aim even higher for ourselves 
in the future.

Each of us joined the Board in the hope that we might contribute to 
strengthening science and serving society. But devotion to an ideal is 
insufficient for success and especially for successful leadership.

Seeing an opportunity, thinking outside the envelope, knowing when it is 
important to be cautious, and when it is time to be bold-‹all were 
required to lead the Board in a period when our members saw a need to be 
more outspoken on issues affecting the health of our scientific enterprise.

Your leadership reminds me a little bit of the advice that country singer
Kenny Rogers offered in his song, ³The Gambler² -- Œyou got to know when 
to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know 
when to run.²  Aside:  Running can be an underestimated virtue!

Dick, you have exhibited the vision and commitment to spark new activism 
on the Board itself‹And your personal qualities of disarming sincerity, 
dedication, and involvement in the scientific community have been 
particularly effective in winning a hearing for the Board among our 
partners in the Federal S&T establishment.

This Board intends that the work we began together under your leadership 
will be but the beginning of a more vocal and influential role in national 
science policy, building on the excellent foundation you constructed.

Dick, during your tenure you provided a breadth of vision, bringing to bear 
an enormous and unstinting energy in leading the Board to achieve the 
goals that it set for itself.

Your generosity of spirit, wisdom and forbearance, softened by your 
always ready humor, have driven us to do more and to find a way to move 
forward together when it would have been easier to simply agree to 

Before proceeding with the award, I would like to invite some of our 
colleagues to say a few words. Diana?

{She said that we had gone to a one-day media training session together.  
She noticed how assiduously I worked to improve my ability to utter trite 
sound bites and to reduce complicated arguments to three trivial talking 
points, and she had grave doubts about the future of the NSB ­ but she is 
pleased to report that the inoculation did not take!}


Rita, would you like to step forward? 
Remarks by Rita Colwell

While we barely crossed paths here at NSF, I have every reason to admire 
the passion and the optimism Dick brings to all of his work.

One colleague relayed a good story about Dick. She recalled a time when 
they had worked together on a project. Dick may have had a few last 
minute edits....

At the end of the project, Dick wrote a note saying: there is no way I can 
thank you enough for all you have done, but I did just hear a good joke that 
I¹ll be happy to share.

In that spirit, I don1t think any of us can fully express our thanks and 
appreciation to Dick for all he has done for the Board and the Foundation, 
but I did just hear a good joke that I¹ll be happy to share.

We have heard the various comparisons of the pace of progress in 
computing versus that in automobiles.

One recent calculation estimated that if automotive technology had kept 
pace with computing technology, we should all have cars that weigh 30 
pounds, get a thousand miles to the gallon of gas, and cost less than 

I was struck by this comparison, until a friend asked very pointedly --
³Yes, but would you really want to drive a car that crashes 4 times a 

There is also one historical note that seems appropriate to mention this 

It was on this day in 1877 that Thomas Edison finished figuring out his 
first phonograph. Being a good senior manager, Edison decided to delegate 
the task of actually constructing the device.

He handed the model of his invention to one of his assistants, with 
instructions on how to build it. According to the historians, the assistant 
was the type of person whose confidence ofien got the better of him. He 
gave the model a quick once over, decided the design was flawed, and 
proclaimed that the machine would never work.

He went to so far at to wager a $2 bet with Edison, saying there was no 
way the machine would ever work as designed. The assistant lost the bet, 
and Edison pocketed the $2.

I can recall discussions among my colleagues around the time Dick first 
announced his plans to elevate the Board¹s role in National Science Policy. 
He probably could have found more than a few people will to wager against 
his succeeding. Like Edison, Dick would have won that bet.

That seems like an appropriate note on which to end. Whether you are 
talking about the politics of chemistry or the chemistry of politics, it¹s 
never a good idea to bet against Dick Zare - and it¹s always a good idea to 
count him as a friend and a colleague.



Remarks by Joe Bordogna

There are many things to say about Dick Zare, some funny and some very 
serious. I will pass on the funny because he is better at it than I am. He 
has always injected humor and liveliness in his work and in his 
relationships with others. In the most positive tone, it is correct to say 
that Dick Zare is a funny man.

On the other hand, we also know him as a superb scientist. One of the 
reasons he was originally chosen to serve on the National Science Board 
was his distinguished reputation in research and teaching. As we all know, 
Dick¹s Board term began in 1992. But it was in 1996, when he became 
Board Chair, that we got to see the real Dick Zare.

As the Chair, Dick has been particularly skilled at giving the Board and its 
deliberations broad visibility in the science community and beyond. He has 
provided a strong public presence for the Board¹s work and been an 
outspoken promoter of its role.

He has been accessible and approachable, and his noticeably unique style 
has been an asset. The Board, I am sure, will miss those contributions. I¹m 
just guessing, but it might be that Dick Zare would miss the Board, too.

I have been waiting for a special occasion to use the following, which is 
taken from the writings of Confucius:

It matters not what you learn; but when you once learn a thing, you must 
never give it up until you have mastered it.  That is Dick Zare.

It matters not what you inquire into; but when you inquire into a thing, you 
must never give it up until you have thoroughly understood it.  That is Dick 

It matters not what you try to think out; but when you once try to think 
out a thing, you must never give it up until you have got what you want. 
That is Dick Zare.

It matters not what you try to sift; but when you once try to sift out a 
thing, you must never give it up until you have sifted it out clearly and 
distinctly. That is Dick Zare.

It matters not what you try to carry out; but when you once try to carry 
out a thing, you must never give it up until you have done it thoroughly and 
well. That is Dick Zare.


Dick, let me ask you to step up to the podium at this point. [Pause while

Dick approaches]

Let me now read the text of the NSB citation:



Is there anyone here tonight who would like to say a few words?

{Larry Rudolph, NSF General Counsel, Dr. Marta Cehelsky, NSB Executive 
Officer, and Julia Moore, Director of NSF Office of Legislative and Public 
Affairs, offered extemporaneous remarks about what a pleasure it was.}


Dick, you honor us in accepting this special Distinguished Service Award 
in recognition of your outstanding service as Chairman of the National 
Science Board.


     Confessions of a Self-Conscious Nerd

I am delighted, even startled, to be invited back to address the National 
Science Board.  As a self-conscious nerd and an avid science policy wonk, I 
have some confessions to make.  First of all, too great a fondness for 
thinking often carries with it a steep price.  Sure, everyone has had his or 
her adolescent miseries.  But for eggheads, like me, there is a special type 
of Hell this rite of passage brings, a special type of torture for 
intellectuals that few others can understand or appreciate ­ the pain of 
being chosen last for team sports, or worse, chosen first when some group 
aggression was in order.  I grew up living in a world of always being 
suitable for answering difficult homework problems but unsuitable for 
being selected as a date.  I learned to live with rejection by developing 
various defense mechanisms to cover up the fact that I was smart, I was 
into school in a big way, and I was obsessed with understanding how the 
world works the way it does.  And even many, many decades later, even as 
someone, who has undergone a metamorphosis into a seemingly happy, 
fulfilled, secure adult, I still harbor somewhere a necrotic core of 
resentment, anger, and frustration at how bad it was back then.  As Robert 
Sapolsky says in his wonderful new book, ³The Problems with 
Testosterone,² these are the stigmata of nerdom.  Usually, I try to keep 
these signs well hidden ­ way out of sight ­ but hopefully tonight I am in 
company who can empathize with these sentiments.  No doubt, this anger I 
feel fuels a flame within me that makes me want to make all my actions 
count for something.  Of course, this goal is easy when it comes to serving 
the National Science Foundation, an institution I love and treasure for 
what it represents.  

Let me share with you another secret. You need to set your sights as high 
as you can. I have discovered that the amount of effort it takes to do 
great, cutting-edge research is really not much greater than to do good, 
competent research!  I think that this secret, alas, is well kept, although 
it shouldn¹t be.  Consequently, as I tell my graduate students, choose 
carefully and wisely your thesis topic and make sure that you dream great 
thoughts for it is only with such dreams that you can possibly realize 
them.  I suspect that the same principles might even apply to science 
policy studies.  

Is there life after service on the National Science Board?  Yes, but it has 
not been easy for me to let go.  I am still stumbling around in the dark 
trying to make my own way.  But being off the Board does have its 
liberating aspects.  I can speak freely my own mind without fear of 
misrepresenting others.  In this regard, I have tried to put together an op 
ed piece that would capture some of what I think I have learned from six 
years on the Board. It is based on the need I had to present some written 
testimony to the Senate science appropriations subcommittee in May.  
Here is what I came up with; it is titled:

Uncle Sam, Please Don¹t Send Us Just More Money

A good basic research program for the country is like a good jazz combo. 
You need a healthy mix of talented musicians who have the courage, 
imagination, and freedom to improvise. Most importantly, you need the 
right mix of instruments and styles so that the music is well balanced. 
Too many drums can give you a headache. 

Good jazz adds considerably to the quality of life.  The same is true for 
basic scientific research.  It provides us with growing knowledge about 
the fundamental nature of the universe, the Earth and its environment, and 
our bodies and ourselves. But basic science also does something more. The 
knowledge that is discovered provides the foundation for new technologies 
that create future wealth. So it is also an extremely important 

I commend Congress and the Clinton Administration for their repeated 
support of the Federal science and technology budget, even when times 
were tough. Despite their efforts, however, the U.S. support for basic 
research remains significantly below what it should be.  Economic studies 
show a rate of return for investment in science exceeding 20 percent!  
What is more difficult to quantify is the fact that scientific research 
provides us with the capability of finding successful answers to 
unimagined new problems and threats.  It does this by drawing on the 
reservoir of knowledge and human resources developed through research.

An important facet of American genius has been to locate the majority of 
fundamental research in universities. By this choice we assure ourselves 
that we are training the future leaders in the best possible manner as 
well as developing the technical pool of talent that serves us so well in 
this new age driven by knowledge and information. 

We truly are on the threshold of wonderful new discoveries in fields such 
as developing artificial skin, bone, or blood, or learning how to grow new 
crops with increased resistance to various predators and plant diseases. 
We must find the will to commit resources to reach these goals. Some may 
say my call for more support is simply what you expect from a working 
scientist who is just another member of a special interest group. That is 
not the case. The scientific community has demonstrated considerable 
leadership in setting priorities within individual fields, and I am 
impatient to experience these benefits. All Americans should be similarly 

The smart science policy maker, like the smart investor, does not put all 
eggs in one basket.  With basic research, you never know exactly where the 
next breakthroughs will come. For example, we need to recognize that even 
medical advances are limited by the rate we make advances in other 
seemingly remote areas of science and technology.

Too much funding in any one area tends to be inefficient, sometimes even 
counterproductive. It's like having too many drums in a jazz combo. One of 
the most striking changes taking place in science and technology is the 
rapidly increasing interdependence on all types of knowledge and know-
how.  Advances in a given field frequently have profound consequences for 
distant and unexpected areas of knowledge. 
Who would have guessed that the discovery of lasers, the brightest, most 
blinding light sources, would some day be used to save vision through 
reattaching detached retinas?    

We must avoid the attempt, however well meaning, of maximizing near-
term returns to the exclusion of long-term benefits that come from a 
balanced science policy. Let me caution that the popular debate on whether 
it is better to support practical versus curiosity-driven research can 
blind us to an important fact. High-quality research, whatever it is 
labeled, almost invariably has broad benefits, both to advancing 
fundamental science and finding important applications.

A wise science policy is not one that foresees the future but rather one 
that enables it to unfold. Like a jazz combo with players in just the right 
balance, such a policy creates an environment where individual creativity 
and improvisation blend together to make exciting music.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share these thoughts with you.