This Gifted Age: Science and Technology at the Millennium
by Dr. John H. Gibbons
Foreword by Vice President Al Gore, Jr.
Choosing an Administration is among the most daunting tasks facing a new Presidency, and it is a task that challenged President Clinton and those advising him in the early days after the 1992 elections. the complicated mix of politics, personality, and power make the selection of key Administration players a difficult and demanding task, and the wealth of talented people who were willing to serve the President and the nation made our choices harder, not easier.
For the White House science advisor, President Clinton and I knew what we were looking for. We wanted someone who could analyze options and advise on the best course to lead the United States into a bold new technological future. We wanted someone with impeccable scientific credentials, who commanded the respect of the scientific community. But we also knew we didn’t want a science advisor who was simply a cheerleader for more and bigger science—we wanted an Assistant to the President who knew the limits of technology as well as its power to improve the quality of life for the American people, present and future.
President Clinton did not have to look far or long for the candidate we needed. Reading the essays in this book, you will understand why Jack Gibbons was one of the earliest—and easiest nominations of the Clinton Administration.
I first came to know Jack Gibbons when I was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee. A fellow Tennessean, Jack had left Oak Ridge National Laboratory to take the helm of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). In an increasingly complex scientific and technological age, OTA was charged with providing Congressional committees with the best available advice on technical issues facing the legislature. The counsel of OTA was invaluable in crafting legislation on virtually every scientific topic addressed by the Congress, from the space program to telecommunications, from environmental protection and food safety to health, education, and national security. I worked often with Jack and the OTA, both in the House and in the Senate, and President Clinton knew we made a good team in science and technology. It’s a team he wanted to keep together, and he chose Jack as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.
In This Gifted Age, the American Institute of Physics has drawn together essays, speeches, and articles that span 25 years of Jack’s thoughtful and incisive commentary on science. From the very first article in the collection, written in 1972 about waste management, to speeches and essays written during his service here at the White House, I am continually impressed by Jack’s prescience in addressing problems to which we are still seeking answers. Jack has a way of bringing social, scientific, and intellectual lenses to bear simultaneously, illuminating and clarifying issues that range from pure science (like the superconducting super collider) to social policy (population control and education).
Throughout the collection, there emerge three themes—the power of science and technology to make ours a better future, the imperative to be wise stewards of our national resources and biological wealth, and the inexorable consequences of misusing the power of technology to push the world beyond its capacity to sustain life and human endeavor. These are themes as critical today as when Jack first pen to paper, and his insights are as crisp and thoughtful.
Jack is particularly eloquent in discussing issues that have dominated his job since coming to the White House—such as getting plutonium out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists, building a space program that looks not just toward the stars but toward the Earth as well, and ensuring that the information superhighway doesn’t leave children in the poorer communities behind. No one could wish for a better snapshot of what the President and I envision as the scientific and technological future of America, than the essays and speeches that comprise the second half of this book.
This Gifted Age stands in radical contrast to the best sellers of today. It does not proclaim that we are facing an “end” to science; it is filled with hope and optimism about the contributions science will continue to make as we build a bridge to the 21st century. It is not an anti-technology paean written by a failed mathematician, or a pseudo-scientific compendium of X Files. It is not a plaint about the lack of funding for science. It is a book that will undergird pride and confidence in science and technology as tools for the public good when used by good people.
Jack is fond of the Adlai Stevenson quote that we Americans never see the handwriting on the wall until our backs are up against it. The value of having a science advisor like Jack Gibbons, and of having a record of this thoughts over the past quarter century as AIP has done, is that we can anticipate the handwriting on the wall. The result is a better understanding of our world, ourselves, and our future.