Why National Science Academies?

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Science  01 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6123, pp. 1011
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236831

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Next Week Marks the 150th Anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. In the midst of the Civil War, a bill introduced by Congressman Henry Wilson of Massachusetts was passed on 3 March 1863 and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln the same day. The Academy's charter thus created stipulated that a new Academy, formed by a group of not more than 50 of the nation's best scientists, "… shall, whenever called upon by any department of the Government, investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art … but the Academy shall receive no compensation whatever for any services to the Government of the United States." Lacking funds, the new Academy got off to a very shaky start.* But today it thrives as part of the influential National Academies, the name given to the expanded institution that now includes the National Research Council, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Why has this organization prospered and grown over the course of the past 150 years? Critical to success is its unique mission to provide independent, evidence-based scientific advice to the nation's policy-makers.