"I can repeat the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?"


"What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?"

Maybe you should look for a science advisor in some other field ... um, botany? No, too controversial. Dermatology?

Judith Rich Harris

Dear President Bush:

I respectfully decline your invitation to compete for the job of science adviser. I just don't think we could work together successfully. For one thing, you're a morning type and a jogger, and I'm not. For another, I somehow don't think we have compatible views of what science is and how it works.

You're an upbeat sort of guy, and would no doubt expect your science advisor to bring you lots of good news about how science is going to solve all the world's problems. But to tell the truth, I'm a little discouraged right now about science's ability to solve all the world's problems.

You see, in my view the source of the world's problems is people. It's people who make wars, commit crimes, mess up the environment, spend too much, spend too little, whatever. So in order to solve the world's problems, we need to understand people. The science of understanding people is called "psychology." But psychology isn't taken seriously, because most folks think they already understand people—who needs science?

What's worse, this attitude is common not just among non-experts like (begging your pardon) yourself: it's common even among psychologists. They all have their own pet theories of what makes people tick, and if the evidence doesn't happen to agree with their theories—well, to hell with the evidence.

Do you see the dilemma? We need a science of human behavior—a science of the human mind—that would tell us (among other things) why people won't believe the evidence that science produces. But if such a science produced interesting and novel results, nobody would believe them! So what's the point?

Maybe you should look for a science advisor in some other field ... um, botany? No, too controversial. Dermatology?

Thanks anyway, and good luck!

Judith Rich Harris
Author, The Nurture Assumption, and the forthcoming Why Are Siblings So Different?

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Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

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