President's Science Advisory Committee
In 1951, President of the United States Harry S. Truman established the Science Advisory Committee (SAC) as part of the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM). Its purpose was to advise the president on scientific matters in general, and those related to defense issues in particular.
As a direct response to the launches of the Soviet Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2 in late 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower upgraded SAC to become the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) and moved to the White House on 21 November 1957. James R. Killian was appointed as its director at that time.
The first report of the newly formed PSAC, sometimes known as the Killian Report, suggested that any defense in the nuclear age was pointless, and outlined scenarios in which up to 90% of the US population would die in an all-out exchange. It suggested the only defense was deterrence, and set in motion the policies that would later be known as Mutually Assured Destruction. It also suggested that the lag in US missile technology was a systemic problem in the education system, which led to widespread reform in the public school system.
The President's Science Advisory Committee included many noteworthy scientists and non-scientists, among them:
- Oliver E. Buckley (Chairman 1951-1952)
- Lee Alvin DuBridge (Chairman 1952-1956)
- Isadore I. Rabi (Chairman 1956-1957)
- James R. Killian (Chairman 1957-1959)
- George Kistiakowsky (Chairman 1959-1961)
- Jerome Wiesner (Chairman 1961-1964)
- Donald F. Hornig (Chairman 1964–1969)
- Lee A. DuBridge (Chairman 1969–1970)
- Edward E. David Jr. (Chairman 1970–1973)
- Hans Bethe
- Lewis Branscomb
- Melvin Calvin
- Britton Chance
- Thomas Gold
- Philip Handler
- Franklin Long
- Gordon J.F. MacDonald
- William McElroy
- George Pake
- Edward Purcell
- Frederick Seitz
- Charles P. Slichter
- Herbert York
- Frank Press
The Committee had no operating responsibilities. Its purpose was to provide advisory opinions and analysis on science and technology matters to the entire Federal Government and specifically to the President. About one-half of the panels' studies were directed to the question of how science could support the United States' national security objectives. The creation of Arms Limitations and Control, Limited Warfare, the Space Science Panels, for example, reflected the national security concerns of the Committee. Two important themes common to many of the studies are the budgetary problems of funding projects, and the Administration's concern over competing successfully with the Soviet Union in science and technology.
In 1965, the PSAC environmental pollution panel issued a major report outlining water, air, and soil pollution, from sewage and lead pollution to atmospheric carbon dioxide.
During the administration of President John F. Kennedy, the PSAC advised against pursuing a manned Moon landing due to cost. Kennedy rejected the committee’s recommendation and aggressively pursued the goal of putting an American on the Moon before the end of the decade.
The end of the PSAC
In 1973, shortly after winning re-election in a landslide, President Richard Nixon, eliminated the committee. Nixon was frustrated with what he saw as a lack of support from the committee for his administration’s agenda, including a member of the committee that spoke publicly against his administration’s support for research into supersonic transport. The White House Office of Science and Technology and the United States Congress were made to rely on federal agencies for guidance in scientific policy. A similar entity, the United States President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), was established in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, and renewed by three subsequent presidents.
- U.S. President's Science Advisory Committee Records, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
- Diary of George B. Kistiakowsky, Dwight D. Eisenhower Library
- Hans Bethe talking about his time on the President's Science Advisory Committee on Peoples Archive.
- The Papers of the President's Science Advisory Committee, 1957-1961
- Restoring the Quality of our Environment: Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President's Science Advisory Committee (PDF). The White House. November 1965.
- Baldwin, Melinda (November 26, 2016). "What it takes to be a presidential science adviser". Physics Today.
- Wang, Zuoyue (2008). In Sputnik's Shadow: The President's Science Advisory Committee and Cold War America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0813546889.
- Golden (ed.), William T. (1994). Science and Technology Advice to the President, Congress and Judiciary. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1560008293.
- Kintisch, Eli (January 2, 2009). "Bending the president's ear". Science Magazine.
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