Dear Mr President,
The most pressing scientific issue facing the nation and the world is the deep level of ignorance of science that exists among the vast majority of the world's population, civilized as well as uncivilized. This is manifest in two ways: 1. Lack of knowledge of even basic scientific discoveries about the world; and 2. Lack of appreciation of the effectiveness of scientific reasoning at arriving at the truth: what Eugene Wigner, one of the last century's leading scientists, called "the unreasonable effectiveness of science".
This appreciation is necessary not only to remove current obstacles to the advances of science; it also needs to infiltrate people's everyday lives so that their daily decisions about how to live are based less on fantasy and irrationality and more on facts and logic.
Until this ignorance is corrected, the whole of the scientific enterprise will be continually hampered by its failure to convince an uncomprehending legislature and electorate to provide suitable funding for science, and to exploit to the maximum its discoveries. The best way to deal with this particular problem, which impedes the solution of most other scientific problems, is to provide an annual bonus on top of their salary to new science teachers of $100,000 a year, and put applicants through a rigorous selection process based on a combination of knowledge, skill and passion for the subject, combined with superb pupil handling ability.
There are about 3 million teaching posts in the USA. If, say, a quarter are to teach math and science, that means finding $75 billion a year. It sounds a lot, but it's actually $5 per person per week. It's estimated that global warming could cost the world $300 billion a year, and America a sizeable proportion of that amount. Good science could deal with that problem and pay for itself. Or take something more banal. In the US people spend almost $75 billion dollars a year on nutritional supplements. If people understood science better, most if not all of that money would be saved, either by eating a better diet or by not buying junk medicines. In one generation the problem will be solved, and during that generation, as a new breed of scientists enters the universities and research institutes, the whole of science will begin to benefit.
A less obvious issue is the deteriorating nature of man-machine interfaces as technology becomes more complex. This is not just a matter of better design of control panels and remote controls-it needs a more fundamental innovation where the intention of the any user is immediately translated into the actions of the device.
Public communicator in science
Author of A Rum Affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud; The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics