Dr. Marburger’s Bromley Lecture: Science as Policy

I attended last week’s Bromley Lecture (in honor of D. Allan Bromley, science adviser to President George H.W. Bush) by Dr. John Marburger, President George W. Bush’s science adviser and head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  As suggested by the abstract, the bulk of Marburger’s remarks focused on his call for a science of science policy and what that means.  Today I’ll post about what Dr. Marburger said, and tomorrow I’ll spend some time discussing what else is needed to fulfill the notion of science of science policy as envisioned by Dr. Marburger.

The summary that follows is based on my notes and recollections.  Any misrepresentations are mine and mine alone.  If you were there and think I mischaracterized something, please comment or contact me off-blog.

Dr. Marburger came to the job from a notable research and research administration career, having served as President of SUNY-Stonybrook as well as Director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory.  He acknowledged that taking the job opened his eyes to science policy beyond his narrow slice of the pie (physics, mostly).  Moving quickly from his background to an overview of science and technology policy, he used a series of charts to note two points that often need repeating.  First, the pattern of public support ($) for science is typically reactive to random, outside events.  Second, there is no apparent systematic approach to support for science and technology funding.  The latest evidence of this was the addition of $6.5 billion to the NIH stimulus bill funding by one senator.  In other words, narrow advantage trumps objective planning. These repeating themes prompted Marburger to respond as a scientist and attempt to place some order on the chaos.

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