If you've ever wondered what kind of knowledge base is required to become involved at high levels in science and technology policy, you might want to watch a Senate confirmation hearing sometime. Earlier today, Drs. John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco sat down in front of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Dr. Holdren is President Obama's nominee to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) - a job that's better known as the Presidential Science Advisor. Dr. Lubchenco has been selected as the Administrator of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
Earlier, I liveblogged the hearing. Here are some more general observations:
The two appointees took questions from members of the committee on a wide range of topics.
Both nominees were asked about how they would maintain scientific integrity. They were asked how to deal with conflicting scientific opinion, for their views about the possibility of learning how to mitigate weather events, and questioned on their opinions on spaceflight.
Dr. Holdren took questions about a range of specific questions involving spaceflight, water flow restrictions in rivers, the potential structure of his office, coordination with other agencies, immigration, climate change, the proposed Chief Technology Officer position, the air traffic control system, arctic research, and oil spills.
Dr. Lubchenco answered inquiries about spaceflight, hurricane research, aquaculture in Alaska and other locales, research in the Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, and Great Lakes, fisheries policy, a gap in doppler radar coverage off the coast of Washington, National Weather Service interaction with the FAA, and how to handle conflicts with other government agencies.
Not only did the two have to speak fluently on a range of topics, they had to do so without unnecessarily antagonizing people who will have a great deal of say over their budgets, without saying anything that would limit things they might want to do later, and without laughing and/or yelling at some of the more ludicrous efforts of the legislators.
Both of the nominees did exceptionally well. Dr. Holdren, in particular, deserves some praise for maintaining his cool in the face of a line of questioning from Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter that seemed to be designed to do nothing more than demonstrate Vitter's ability to be a complete prick at any conceivable opportunity.
"a line of questioning from Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter that seemed to be designed to do nothing more than demonstrate Vitter's ability to be a complete prick"
And given his personal history, Vitter should be a little more careful about that!
And that's why I'd never make it in politics--I'd be too likely to say that to his face.
Do you really think it is likely one billion people will die by 2020 due to climate change?
You said that 1 billion climate change deaths could happen by 2020. Still stick to that?
Could still happen.
Likely? No. And, in fact, Dr. Holdren also said - repeatedly - that he doesn't think it's likely. But unlikely isn't the same as impossible. And it's good to keep that in mind.
It is also possible that little green men from mars could invade by the year 2020, but I sure wouldn't want my science advisor to base his advice on that possibility.
Who said anything about him basing advice on that possibility? He was asked if he'd rule it out as a possibility. He said no, which is the correct answer. Right now, we can say that it's not likely - and Holdren said it's not likely.
But not likely is quite simply not the same thing as not impossible. Ruling that out as a possibility when directly asked would have been irresponsible.