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  • Bush Nominates Science Adviser

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2001
Daniel S. Burgess

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has tapped John H. Marburger III, director of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., to be the White House science adviser and to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Marburger faces confirmation by the Senate, which is in recess in August.

The Bush administration has nominated John H. Marburger III of Brookhaven National Laboratory for the position of science adviser, where he also will serve as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

At Brookhaven, Marburger oversaw the completion of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and the expansion of the laboratory's Center for Imaging and Neuroscience. He served as president of the State University of New York in Stony Brook from 1980 to 1994 and cofounded the Center for Laser Studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1973.

The nomination follows criticism that Bush had dragged his heels on naming a science adviser and that he has ignored scientific counsel on global warming and the feasibility of national missile defense. In July, Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer, denied that the administration has been slow to fill this and other positions, noting that the President had nominated more people by June 30 than his three predecessors did.

Marburger, a Democrat, will be co-chairman of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology with E. Floyd Kvamme, whom Bush appointed in March. Kvamme, a partner in the investment firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Menlo Park, Calif., donated $243,000 to Republican candidates and committees during the 2000 election. He is chairman of the Washington-based Empower America, which has issued statements characterizing the link between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming as "phony science" and "fear-mongering."

The role of adviser

Neal Lane, the science adviser under President Clinton, described an effective science adviser as a team player with people skills as well as a broad scientific knowledge base. "I can't think of anybody better for that job than Jack Marburger," he said. Lane, who has returned to Rice University in Houston as a professor of physics and astronomy and senior fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, sees two challenges facing the next science adviser. "The first is to ensure that the next generation of scientists and engineers are attracted to science and get the resources and support they need," he said. The second is to address and to express how key issues in science and technology affect domestic and international policy, he added.

Educate Americans

Duncan T. Moore, a professor of optical engineering at the University of Rochester in New York, also served under the Clinton administration as associate director for technology at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. He agreed that the science adviser must display both scientific competence and interpersonal talents, but he suggested that the scientific community must do more itself to educate Americans on the benefits of science. "We've got to start talking with Rotary clubs and not just scientific societies," he said.

Moreover, the photonics community must more actively campaign policymakers for funding. "Science is nonpartisan," Moore said. "Both parties support scientific research. Where they differ -- the argument is how far along in the food chain government should give its support."

Gary A. Williams, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of California in Los Angeles, fears that funding for basic research will continue to be threatened even after a science adviser is confirmed. "Science is just completely off the radar screen of the Bush administration," he said. "Science funding is just another line in the budget to them -- a line that can be easily reduced to pay for the tax cut."

Williams thinks it crucial that the next science adviser address the results of funding cuts under Bush. "His lack of any understanding of scientific research is having a devastating impact," he said.

Williams' research lab has produced 18 articles in the last four years on low-temperature physics and acoustic phenomena. "Our reward for this is to be completely cut off [from National Science Foundation funding] for at least the next six months," he said.

He is pessimistic that Marburger will be able to change the situation. "He should be prepared for four years of frustration," he warned. "Although it is good that Bush has finally gotten around to even considering the position [of science adviser], I doubt he will even bother to listen."

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