DISCOVER's Science Policy Project: David Brin

By Melissa Lafsky | September 29, 2008 11:30 am

What are the three most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? To cut through the jargon and find an answer, we bring you the DISCOVER Science Policy Project, in which we give a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to state their views. All past responses can be found here.

DAVID BRIN
Science fiction author and futurist

Restore the independent scientific panels that used to advise Congress on scientific and technological matters.

Going much further, let each member of Congress select one scientifically or technologically qualified person, to serve both as an adviser and as his or her representative on a “shadow scientific Congress” to thrash out complex matters of fact—so that Congress itself can concentrate on policy solutions.

While pushing for better science education and more research funding, don’t forget the rising trend of the twenty-first century—amateur science. More and more fields of professional research have found use for part-timers, who are sometimes knowledgeable, skilled and surprisingly well equipped. This trend will advance with or without encouragement from government or academe. Some investment should be given to endeavors like the Society of Amateur Scientists.

Develop trust building tools…methods for assessing risk and reducing unpleasant consequences, so that we again become a people willing to take on big and daring projects.

Comments (153)

  1. Spot on, David! We are the in midst of a Perfect Storm: The growth in access to affordable instrumentation, the rise in the number of “citizen scientists” or amateur scientists, drastic cuts in research budgets that have left scientists scrambling for innovative ways to collect data, and the popularity of crowd sourcing. A recipe for creating a powerful human bridge between science and the public and, I’d argue, between science and Congress. These citizen scientists should be part of critical, national science policy debates (stem cell research, cloning, genetically modified foods, etc). How? Reopen the Office of the Tech Assessment (science policy advisors to Congress) or something like the OTA and mandate citizen participation to ensure the public’s values and insights are take into account, along with the “expert” scientists.
    (keep up the great work, Melissa!)

  2. Intriguing, but wouldn’t politicians tend to choose science advisers who tell them what they want to hear, *especially* if the advisers are organized into a body that has any sort of transparency. And I take it for granted that David would advocate transparency in such a “shadow Congress.”

    Seems to me that the first idea is much better because of that word “independent.”

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