Physicist, Harvard University; Author, Warped Passages, Knocking on Heaven's Door, and Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe
Professor of Physics Harvard University

I am pleased you are considering me for this advisory position. However, before proceeding further, I would appreciate some clarification about your vision for my role in your administration. Particularly in these tumultuous times, I would like to know that you will not neglect the advice of the scientific community. Since you have moved my predecessor's office away from the White House and downgraded his role, refusing to give him the customary title "Assistant to the President," I cannot help but question your commitment to furthering and best utilizing scientific advances.

This apprehension is compounded by your having eliminated my predecessor's deputy from the National Security Council, explicitly indicating that science is no longer an integral part of national decision making.

The views of the scientific community could be especially relevant today. Many pressing issues that will shape the lives of Americans and the world in the coming years will be best addressed by leaders who recognize that science, science education, scientific expertise, and international scientific cooperation are crucial to formulating the best policy.

Take the issue of national security. How can we assess other countries' potential for creating weapons of mass destruction without detailed understanding of potentially dangerous materials and what is required to transform them into truly dangerous ones? How can any agency hope to protect "the homeland" without evaluating our reliance on technology and how best to safeguard it from interference? And how can we hope to have a stable world unless the benefits and advances of technology are more widely distributed?

I fear I will disqualify myself from this job by pointing out that the threat of global warming is an issue the scientific community has finally reached consensus on. Yet the detrimental effects, both economically and environmentally, of excessive carbon dioxide emissions have been completely neglected in formulating current policy.

I do not wish to give the impression that I think the role of scientific advisor is only to attend to the most pressing issues of our day. It is critical that the importance of a long-term view of the role and significance of science does not get subsumed by the more immediate issues. Like a college education, which is absurdly expensive yet repays itself in spades, science is difficult to assess with a cost-benefit analysis. Current scientific policy focuses on short-term achievement and success, to the exclusion of investigating long-term potential and possibilities.

The long-term future of science might well involve big expensive tools that take time to develop and employ. It is essential to develop some riskier ideas if in the end we are to remain competitive. This is particularly true for Particle Physics, where progress will only be made with adequately funded big projects that will most likely happen only with meaningful international cooperation. It is important that you, the President, recognize that with action or inaction, we are making a choice about our long-term competitiveness in this field and physics as a whole. Europe devotes twice the percentage of its GDP than America to physics. The European collider facility in Geneva, CERN, has twice the budget of the main American facility, Fermilab, in Batavia, Illinois. CERN has been able to develop new projects using only its operating budget; American facilities lack that luxury.

My focus on Particle Physics is because it is my field of expertise. But I want to emphasize that the benefits of Particle Physics, like most scientific endeavors, spread beyond their immediate goals. Accelerator technology was developed for purely scientific reasons yet is now routinely utilized in hospitals. Advances in processing and coordinating large databases has and will filter out of the physics environment to the world at large. And exciting ideas and better understanding are essential to stimulating and promoting the advanced education which sustains our economy.

In summary, a coherent scientific policy is particularly imperative in the world of today. There is a real danger of losing the priceless environment, both physical and intellectual, that enhances our way of life. With so many technological and scientific issues at stake, it is critical that corporate interests and political calculations are not the sole determinants of scientific policy. Let's not sacrifice support for major scientific advances to short-term political agendas whose legacy will forever be regretted.

Lisa Randall
Professor of Physics
Harvard University