Bruce Alberts on President, National Academy of Sciences
  Bruce Alberts     Biography    
Recorded: 22 Aug 2008

Well I guess that one of the most... well I learned a lot as President of the Academy. I, you know, most of us as scientists are pretty narrow in what we do. And, you know, because of the Academy you see that science has so much applicability to things that just not being applied to.I mean, all politicians need to know what the long term consequences of what their actions are. Even if they don’t want to know it sometimes because it interferes with them doing what’s expedient politically. So that’s a frustration. The long term vision of science, the rationality of sciences, against short term politics which gets us in lot of trouble. You know, we should have done something so many years ago on energy, and we just keep on building Hummers and putting our head in the sand. So this is going to cause the United States a huge amount of damage.

So I interacted with politicians, I got yelled at by politicians who didn’t like what we were finding. In fact, once I was on the stage at Cold Spring Harbor at the Cold Spring Harbor Cancer Symposium. It was the spring of 2005, and I get this note passed up to me – “Senator Stevens needs to talk to you right away.” I can’t talk to him right now. I’m chairing a session. So I get this number to call back Senator Stevens as soon as I get off the podium. So I call him up, and he’s in a car going off to the airport, and he starts yelling at me about our report on the environment in Alaska and how it was biased and this that and the other thing. And anyway this is not the most important part of being Academy President.

But, also, you know, I was called, for example, when they were, Bush was looking for a science advisor. I got called into the White House to speak to the head of White House personnel somewhere right near the Oval Office in there. That web. And, his name was Clay Johnson. A very good person, a businessman. But no understanding of the kind of things I was trying to say. I was there because he invited me to give him some names of people who might be the science advisor. But we already knew that they didn’t want to make this person a real science advisor to the President, but they wanted this person, as it turned out to be Jack Gibbons, to be somewhere else in this, on the side, and not in the high level White House meetings. And so I took that occasion to try to explain to him why it was important to have science, a science advisor right at hand. More in decisions of the president’s meeting about anything, they should have a scientist, science advisor available to connect that wealth of knowledge. He was very honest, and he told me this is something we have to fight. This is a big deal. He said, "Why should we want science, scientists in the White House? We don’t want farmers in the White House; we don’t want unions in the White House. You know, all these are special interests. We want to keep special interests out of the White House." So this is partly our fault. Scientists, we discuss a bigger vision of why we’re here and what we’re here for. We’re not here to get funding for scientists. That’s all they think we want is more money, like the farmers want more subsidies and so on. Anyway, so that’s a big issue, and the next administration I think we need to try do a much better job of getting that message home.

Bruce Alberts, currently Editor-in-chief of Science, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysic at the University of California and United States Science Envoy. He received A.B. (1960) in Biochemical Science from Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Ph.D. (1965) from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1966 he joined Department of Chemistry at the Princeton University and after 10 years he became professor and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysic at the UCSF.

Alberts work is best known for his work on the protein complexes that allow chromosomes to be replicated. He is one of the authors of The Molecular Biology of the Cell, a major textbook in the field. He served two-six years terms as a president of National Academy of Science (1993-2005). During his administration at NAS, he was involved in developing the landmark of National Science Education standards.

Among many honors and awards (16 honorary degrees), he is Co-chair of the InterAcademy Council and a trustee of Gordon and Betty Moore Fundation.

More Information: Wikipedia, UCSF