Science Advice in the White House? Continuation of a Debate

Science  10 Jan 1975:
Vol. 187, Issue 4171, pp. 35-41
DOI: 10.1126/science.187.4171.35


Thus, we are skeptical of the commonly stated arguments for re-creation of a science office at the White House, but are ultimately convinced that such an office is justified. A three-man CST is a reasonable proposal, although the detailed structure is less critical than the mandate given to the office, and the general understanding within government of its functions and limitations and of its relationship to the President.

To give it permanence, the office should be grounded in a science policy management and oversight function that is critically needed today. That kind of strong office could lead a president to use it as his personal science advisory staff, but the decision must be made anew by each president. The President does have other ways of obtaining scientific advice, although the right kind of science office would be a preferable route in our view.

The importance of such an office being able to present its analyses and recommendations in policy terms useful to other policy-makers cannot be overestimated. This has important implications for the kind of competence required to staff and work with such a council; it also requires recognition of the fact that policy-relevant studies and advice can never be value-free, even when carried out by scientists and engineers.

And finally, such a council could bring intensive and continuous attention to the international dimension of U.S. science policy, which seems to us to be particularly neglected.

It is not yet clear whether there will be any structural changes in the new Administration. But it is not too soon to be clearer about the essential factors that should underlie a sensible proposal for this or the next Administration.