Dear Mr. President,
A top priority for today's science advisor should be Alternative Energy, with a fleet of Think Again Tanks to reconsider the potential of cold fusion, hydrogen cells, more efficient solar power, better methods of drilling for methane, and employing wind and tidal energy.
Your science advisor would also need to be a political analyst, whose first hurdle would be overcoming West Wing Withdrawal. For all Martin Sheen's ability to multi-task, in reality, key problems are often pushed to the back burner, and domestic policy is naturally suffering by the current need to put out so many fires in foreign policy.
Reducing our dependence on foreign oil was a need that should have been addressed a few decades ago, a "Vision Thing". The long view so necessary in science is limited by the preference for short-term gains, i.e. how to be re-elected in 2004. Your father's success in foreign policy was quickly undone by discontent on domestic policies and a bad economy. So how to please the voters, create new jobs, and maintain sustainable development?
Develop a project of broad appeal, say, something that will make Baby Boomers look younger. (It was, after all, a marketing campaign targeting Baby Boomers that promoted SUVs as must haves for the adventurous.)
For the moment let's call this phase one Reinventing the Wheel. In reality, we're reintroducing the bicycle, along with Green Lanes, to combat urban sprawl. Lance Armstrong might be involved to give the project broad appeal, although there's hardly a town or city unaffected by this in the U.S.
Problems include loss of farmland, global warming from increased traffic, loss of wilderness and wetland habitat, death of downtowns, and voters stressed out by longer commutes. Americans are becoming increasingly obese, partly from lack of exercise, yet it's inconvenient and dangerous to walk in many US cities.
Green Lanes should accommodate bicycles, along with 3-wheel rickshaws, Segways or other non-fossil-fuel burning transport, including horse drawn carriages. These protected lanes could also allow golf carts, electric powered, quiet and producing no fumes. All should be registered and licensed to help fund the Green Lanes, designed with some clever coverage for in-climate weather.
This would be the first small step towards reducing traffic, and perhaps the beginning of an educational program that draws upon talents of Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley to transform scientific research into ideas that engage, and offer doable solutions.
Finally, how can we return scientists and other thinking people to a mentoring (celebrity) role? When Albert Einstein arrived in New York, hundreds of fans turned out to greet him. I suggest the White House consider a New Year's List similar to England's peerage designations, to honor visionary leaders in science. The honorees could range widely, including conservationists, AIDs researchers, even novelists who write well about science and conservation. Instead of knighthood, recipients might be denoted by a tier of titles (the Order of the Helix) or put EMC after their name (Einstein's famous formula adapted to denote "Einstein Mentoring Colleague.") Recipients would be required to speak on issues that most concern them at Year's End, answer questions from students, and participate in a roundtable similar to "A Glorious Accident".
Author of The Sand Dollar & the Slide Rule, The Leakey Family, and The Hominid Gang.