Marburger’s Prepared Remarks from CU

February 23rd, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

We have posted John Marburger’s (President Bush’s science advisor) prepared remarks (PDF) delivered at the University of Colorado on February 14, 2005 during our first science advisor symposium. Here is an excerpt,

“The advisory arrangements have changed relatively little since 1950. Presidential science advisors are still mostly physicists known to each other, and national security is still an important focus of science advice (with a new homeland security angle). Given the enormous changes that have occurred in the landscape of science and the technical infrastructure of society, this invariance of the government machinery for science is mildly surprising. It speaks, perhaps, to the wisdom of the postwar policy architects, but it should also awaken a concern that the structure and practice of science policy today may diverge from the functions it needs to perform in a dynamic society…”

Marburger quotes extensively from “two of his favorite articles on science policy,”

“Daniel Sarewitz’s 2003 essay “Does Science Policy Exist, and if so Does it Matter?” (available on the website of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University At the far end, on the leading edge of the dramatic leap in federal science funding in the early 60’s, is Alvin Weinberg’s 1961 article “Impact of Large-Scale Science on the United States” [Science magazine vol. 134, 161 (1961)].”

He read an extended quote from Weinberg, making the point that we continue to have, “the need to understand the likely impact on society of different patterns of investment. Here are Weinberg’s own words on the matter:

“…it is presumptuous for me to urge that we study biology on earth rather than biology in space, or physics in the nuclear binding-energy region, with its clear practical applications and its strong bearing on the rest of science, rather than physics in the Bev region, with its absence of practical applications and its very slight bearing on the rest of science. What I am urging is that these choices have become matters of high national policy. We cannot allow our over-all science strategy, when it involves such large sums, to be settled by default, or to be pre-empted by the group with the most skillful publicity department. We should have extensive debate on these over-all questions of scientific choice: we should make a choice, explain it, and then have the courage to stick to a course arrived at rationally.”

Marburger continues,

“I think one of the important roles of OSTP and national science advisors is to introduce such considerations into the complex process of requesting and appropriating resources, and not simply to be an advocate for everything any scientist wants to do, or to go along with societal inclinations that may be shaped, as Weinberg put it, more by public relations than by an objective assessment of importance to society. The extraordinary flowering of technology in the post WWII period has produced an unprecedented frontier of opportunity in science fields that are strongly linked to societal needs. The expense of pursuing these makes Weinberg’s plea even more appropriate today than forty years ago.”

This is strong stuff from any scientists, much less a science advisor. Read Marburger’s remarks here. As soon as we can, we will post on Prometheus notice of when the transcript of my public interview with Marburger is available, which gets into a wide range of issues such as climate change, politicization of science and evolution. Stay tuned. Meantime, keep up with our science advisors series and associated events here.

Note: Sarewitz’s article referred to by Marburger can be found here (PDF).

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