Feature

The National Research Council (NRC) boasts a history that would impress any scientist. Established in 1916 by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the council was formed as a way to link the country's scientific and technological communities with the academy's mission of advising the government.

The NAS owes its existence to Abraham Lincoln, and by extension, so does the NRC. In 1863, Lincoln charged the NAS with the same mission the NRC has today: providing Congress with rigorous scientific information on policy matters. Lincoln's first charge to the academy was to devise a compassing system for the ironclad battleship, the Monitor.

Today, the NRC serves not just the NAS but also the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), established in 1964. The NRC, NAS, NAE and Institute of Medicine, or IOM, founded in 1970, collectively form what is now called The National Academies.

In the past, the NRC mainly held its meetings in private because Congress wanted it to have freedom from political interference. But that has changed somewhat in recent years. In the wake of clamoring by public interest groups--in particular animal-rights groups--in 1998 Congress amended the law that had exempted the NRC from having to disclose information publicly, says psychologist Christine Hartel, PhD, who directs the NRC's Board on Behavioral, Cognitive and Sensory Sciences.

Although the NRC can still conduct its work in private session, it now posts meetings publicly and allows the public to comment on committee appointments, she says. The public can tap into NRC activities via The National Academies' extensive Web site, www.nas.edu.

Psychologists have long had a strong presence at the NRC, and many luminaries in the field participate in NRC boards and panels. Some psychologists on the NRC's Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, for instance, include infant researcher Arnold Sameroff, PhD, neuroscientist Larry Squire, PhD, developmental psychologist Esther Thelen, PhD, and adolescent researcher Anne Petersen, PhD, who chairs the board.

NRC reports can be accessed online at the NRC's Web site, www.nationalacademies.org. For no cost you can read an online version of NewsReport, a newsletter published three times a year by the NRC detailing new developments. Or subscribe to it for $10 a year by sending a check made out to NewsReport to: NewsReport, P.O. Box 665, Homes, PA 19043.

--T. DeANGELIS