In a career that included tenures as president of Stony Brook University, director of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and science advisor to President George W. Bush, John Marburger (1941–2011) found himself on the front line of battles that pulled science ever deeper into the political arena. From nuclear power to global warming and stem cell research, science controversies, he discovered, are never just about science. Science Policy Up Close presents Marburger’s reflections on the challenges science administrators face in the twenty-first century.
In each phase of public service Marburger came into contact with a new dimension of science policy. The Shoreham Commission exposed him to the problem of handling a volatile public controversy over nuclear power. The Superconducting Super Collider episode gave him insights into the collision between government requirements and scientists’ expectations and feelings of entitlement. The Directorship of Brookhaven taught him how to talk to the public about the risks of conducting high-energy physics and about large government research facilities. As Presidential Science Advisor he had to represent both the scientific community to the administration and the administration to the scientific community at a time when each side was highly suspicious of the other.
What Marburger understood before most others was this: until the final quarter of the twentieth century, science had been largely protected from public scrutiny and government supervision. Today that is no longer true. Scientists and science policy makers can learn from Marburger what they must do now to improve their grip on their own work..
Among [Marburger’s papers] is a long, beautiful letter to a high school student who requested information about the controversial nuclear reactor at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The response not only clearly lays out the pros and cons of the reactor but also considers how a ‘reasonable’ person should evaluate a controversy, and is characteristic of Marburger’s careful presentation of all sides and societal context… This book will prove valuable to those, like Marburger, concerned with the interaction between science and society.
Marburger examines the interface between science and government through the prism of several complex situations in which he played a central role. The lucid ‘memos to self’ and public addresses give valuable insights into science policy development over 30 years, and how it must evolve in future.
An extremely valuable contribution.
As a science policy actor on the American stage, Jack Marburger combined the requisite technical expertise with less common virtues: humility and a genuine respect for the views and concerns of citizens. This combination of assets imbued him with an uncommon capacity to navigate politically difficult issues, from controversies over nuclear energy to the divisive politics of the George W. Bush administration. Marburger’s writings thus provide not just a valuable insider’s view of the art of science policy making, but a civics lesson on what it takes to be an effective public servant.
- 256 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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