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The work of PCAST and PSAC


Serving on presidential advisory Committees
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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It was at the time of the Nixon administration, although at that time the committee was more or less self-perpetuating with the permission of the political authorities. So it didn't imply... my membership didn't imply that I was a Nixon supporter. No, I understand, I understand... No, but I thought that was an interesting point to make because now in the last... in the last couple of administrations... last... yeah, in the last couple of administrations... Clinton and Bush, service on an analogous body has really been for people who more or less supported the administration.

[Q] Ah, I see, Yes. And… and this is PCAST is now what you're serving on?

The present one is called PCAST: the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, and I'm the only human link between it and the old PSAC, the only person who's served on both.

[Q] So maybe, I think it would be very interesting to hear your views on that, having served on both: different eras, different conditions under which you've served. You have some thoughts on that?

Well I don't…

[Q]And in particular scientific involvement with politics?

Yes. I don't think there's anything wrong with the change. I don't think… I think that pretending that such a committee can be really independent is not that worthwhile. I think that one probably does better having a committee that is frankly in some degree of sympathy with the administration, and can therefore help the administration in what it needs. It needs advice on, from scientific and technical people, on what sorts of things to do. So, I'm not upset at all about that change. And it has not been of a… of a nasty kind, that is, there is no… it… it's not a situation where political imperatives caused the scientists to betray their scientific consciences and say things they don't mean.

[Q] It's not… it’s not partisan in any way, in other words?

It's somewhat partisan, but not in a bad way. I don't see anything particularly wrong with it.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: PCAST, PSAC, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, George W Bush

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010