Bill Golden

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Science  09 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5852, pp. 887
DOI: 10.1126/science.1151940

The scientific community lost a remarkable resource when William T. Golden, for years the treasurer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) among many other things, passed away on 7 October of this year at the age of 97. Bill had a stunning career, well positioned at the juncture of the science he loved and the public interest to which he was so dedicated. He will be missed for many reasons, not least because he was a treasury of knowledge and recollection about science and public policy.

The list of his commitments is not merely long; it's full of high spots. For half a century, he was a major authority on the history and practice of giving science advice to the U.S. government. His book Science Advice to the President was first published by AAAS in 1980, is now in its second edition, and is required reading for anyone seriously interested in the evolution of science policy. Bill first dipped into personal involvement in science right after his release from active wartime Navy service, and he didn't stop for a moment until his death.

It seems safe to say that the scientific community in the United States has never had a stronger or more resolute supporter. But that would unfairly exclude his importance to international science, which he served in multiple ways, among which two are especially significant. In the early 1990s, he established and served as the organizer and leader of the Carnegie Group, an association of science advisers and ministers from the G7 nations. These candid sessions had a positive effect on scientific coordination among these countries, and according to the late D. Allan Bromley, former Science Adviser to President George H. W. Bush, the Carnegie Group would not have existed without Golden.

In the early years of the Clinton administration, Bill saw the need for more scientific input to the Department of State, and with others, succeeded in managing a feat that not only required his personal ingenuity but cost him something as well. He persuaded Secretary of State Albright to request a National Academies study on the role of science, technology, and health in foreign affairs. State and the Academies worked together on the study, Bill paid for it, Secretary Albright accepted its findings, and Norman Neureiter was appointed as her science adviser. The position was a historic first and deserves to be made permanent.

I would guess that the deepest impact of Bill's vision came about through his chairmanship, with Joshua Lederberg, of the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government. It was the brainchild of David Hamburg, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Hamburg had a strategy about commissions: that nongovernment groups, if appropriately formed and supported, could have a national voice and an influence at least as great as those of groups formed by government. This one had a membership that included former President Carter and a roster of scientists, university presidents, and former government officials, but most of the real work was done by task forces assigned to work on particular problems. Well over a dozen reports were produced; they sit on my shelf and are useful enough that I still occasionally refer to them. Bill's favorite was surely the first of these, Science and Technology in U.S. International Affairs. He wrote the foreword with Lederburg and clearly brought the report into play at the beginning of his effort to inject science policy into the Department of State.

Do you see a certain pattern here? Golden would discover a problem, and if it was important enough, he got an early start, creating auspices under which his plan for addressing it could gain some credibility. Later, that plan could be referred to as an enabling document in the bibliography of an official study on the problem. If further studies were needed, they would get done, perhaps through Bill's financial as well as intellectual gifts. Time after time, when he saw a real need, he found a way to fill it. What an epitaph!

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