“More than any other nation, we have used science and technology
wisely to create peace, advance democracy, and provide for the
well being of our citizens.” – John Marburger

President Bush’s nominee for Director of the Office of Science
and Technology Policy, John Marburger, gave a strong and
articulate performance at his October 9 nomination hearing before
the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The
hearing also addressed the nomination of Phillip Bond to be the
Department of Commerce Undersecretary for Technology. Committee
members were enthusiastic about both nominees and looked forward
to their prompt and smooth confirmation. Science,
Transportation, and Space Subcommittee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR),
who chaired this hearing, expressed “very high expectations for
you two.”

Much of the early part of the hearing addressed the use of
science and technology to protect against and repair damage
caused by terrorism, but Wyden later shifted the focus to a
philosophical discussion of science and how it can inform policy.
Marburger showed himself a thoughtful proponent of science, the
scientific method, and the flexibility, creativity, and diversity
of the nation’s science enterprise.

Marburger, who has served as Director of Brookhaven National
Laboratory since 1994, was given introductions by House Science
Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Rep. Felix Grucci
(R-NY), who represents the Brookhaven district. Boehlert praised
Marburger as “an excellent manager” and “a natural leader.”
These are abilities that will be needed, Boehlert added, “to work
with the turf-conscious R&D agencies and the Office of Management
and Budget.” Grucci testified that Marburger had “restored the
[local] community’s trust” in Brookhaven Laboratory, and
“reaffirmed their faith” in the nation’s science program.
Marburger, he said, “will be a tremendous asset to President Bush
and our nation.”

Prior to his position at Brookhaven, Marburger was President of
the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “I believe my
professional career over the last three decades – as a Professor
of physics and electrical engineering, as a university Dean and
President, and as the Director of the Department of Energy’s
Brookhaven National Laboratory – has provided me with the
knowledge and experience to meet the needs and expectations of
this office,” Marburger stated. He promised, if confirmed, to
“seek the counsel and wisdom of the best minds in the science and
engineering community,” and to “ensure that our science and
technology portfolio is responsive to Presidential and
Congressional intent, that our cross-cutting programs are well-
coordinated, and that our research and development funds are
efficiently used.”

The first questions from Wyden and Ranking Member George Allen
(R-VA) focused on combating terrorism. Wyden cited a GAO report
that found a lack of coordination in counterterrorism efforts
across agencies, and asked how to better mobilize the creativity
and energy of private-sector technology companies in both
preventing and responding to terrorism. Marburger responded that
the Office of Science and Technology Policy was created
specifically to organize cross-cutting committees and provide
cross-agency coordination. He expected the President’s Council
on Science and Technology (PCAST) – which he would co-chair and
which includes industry and academic S&T leaders – to play an
important role in addressing such issues. He pledged to work
with Tom Ridge and the new Office of Homeland Security to learn
lessons from the September 11 attacks and identify opportunities
to do a better job of responding in the future.

Wyden then asked how, “at a time when science is more important
than ever before,” Congress can ensure that it has the best
possible science to inform its policy decisions. He noted that
Congress must generally rely on outside sources for scientific
information, and questioned whether it is possible to define a
core set of principles for what constitutes “real science, as
opposed to junk science.” Wyden offered several suggestions:
that science used for policy be consistent with the majority of
findings published in peer-reviewed literature; that it satisfy
definitions of good scientific practice; that it be supported by
empirical data; and that policy be arrived at by consensus.

“I think the peer-review process is flexible enough to be a
pretty good guide,” Marburger responded, but he pointed out that
sometimes good ideas “come from left field.” Policies need to
have sufficient flexibility for “an occasional wild card” or off-
the-wall idea, he said, and ideas should not be discarded just
because “most people don’t agree with them.” Taking this into
account, he agreed that “peer-review is the right approach.”

Regarding good practice, he asked, “as determined by whom?” He
noted that “there are some awfully sloppy scientists…who are
very brilliant,” and cautioned that it was important to recognize
that “science progresses in a very opportunistic way.” An idea
can “come out of the blue,” he said, but if it stimulates new
thought and new avenues of approach, it should be looked at, and
tested against nature. He acknowledged that different fields
have a diversity of methods, and pointed out that some areas of
science are more amenable to modeling and simulation than others.
But, he added, “nature has to be the final arbiter.”

“If you try to get a broad range of opinion” on which to base
policy, Marburger remarked, “sometimes you get just that; a broad
range of opinion.” He said someone was needed to integrate those
opinions with knowledge and insight in order to craft effective
policy. In general, Marburger thought the nation’s regulatory
mechanisms for science “are quite strong.”

Wyden was clearly pleased with the responses he received. He
then questioned whether Marburger would have sufficient access to
the President. Marburger replied that he had been assured
appropriate access to Bush. He commented that he had felt “good
vibes” in conversations with White House officials, and had felt
comfortable expressing his opinions freely. “I expect that when
I have something important to say,” he stated, “the President
will hear it,” either directly or through appropriate channels.

Wyden also raised questions about the Administration’s policies
on stem cell research and global climate change. Marburger said
the President’s decision on stem cells opens the door to research
in this area. He believed the President’s climate change policy
of calling for more S&T “to steer us toward a knowledge-based
policy” was “basically correct.” He added that he had been
reassured by the fact that Bush, “in the absence of a science
advisor,” had sought advice from the National Academy of Sciences
and, based on that advice, had “changed his tune.” He said OSTP
was now working to craft long-range climate change policies for
the country.

In conclusion, Wyden urged Marburger to seek bipartisan
cooperation from Congress on science issues, and expressed his
“high expectations” for the nominees. Both nominations are
expected to be favorably reported to the full Senate. Selected
portions of Marburger’s written statement will be provided in FYI


Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics


(301) 209-3094