John P. Holdren, director of White House Office Science and Technology Policy. (Wikimedia photo)
“We can’t expect to be number one in everything indefinitely,” Dr. John P. Holdren said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Holdren is director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and chairs the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology (PCAST), making him the top science adviser in the administration.
The former Harvard professor was at the AAAS to speak to students about the Obama administration’s priority of advancing science and technology issues; its goal to increase spending in the area to 3 percent of the gross domestic product; and Obama’s great personal interest in the fields.
In a question-and-answer session with students after the talk, one student asked Holdren how the United States could move forward now that it is no longer “the big shiny beacon” where all scientists travel to do their research.
Holdren called it a mixed picture, and said it was not purely bad for the United States that other countries were making gains instead of us.
“That is, there are many benefits to the increasing capabilities of science and technology in other countries around the world,” he said. “It’s not an unmixed or dead loss that other countries are getting better in science and technology.”
“Other countries getting better increases their capabilities to improve the standard of living of their countries, to improve their economies and, as a result, ultimately to make the world a better and safer place.”
Holdren, who was previously director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said that as a result of those good advances, “We can’t expect to be number one in everything indefinitely.”
“Probably the most appropriate responses to this degree of levelization (sic) of the playing field is to cooperate, to exchange more,” he said. “We have all kinds of programs already in which U.S. graduate students and post-docs go to China and Chinese graduate students come here—direct exchanges, university to university.”
Holdren said such programs also exist with Japan, India, Brazil, and “a variety of European countries.”
“We intend to grow those programs because we think they are mutually beneficial and we intend to grow the cooperations (sic) in which we engage with other countries.,” he said.
However, the top science adviser admitted that accepting this kind of level playing field also had its downside for the United States.
“On the other hand, there are some problematic aspects,” he said, “if, for example, it is so hard for scientists and technologists from certain countries to get into this country that that kind of cooperation is impeded.”
“It’s a problem if everybody who we graduate from our universities who is originally from another country goes back—invite some of them to stay,” he said. “And we make it, in some respects, too hard to say. Some people have suggested we should staple a green card to every Ph.D. in science and engineering that we give to a non-U.S. citizen. So again, like so many of the very good questions you folks are asking, this one has no really tidy answer, but we’re trying to work it on a number of fronts.”
Holdren is often called the science ‘czar’ for the vast swath of topics on which he is tasked to advise the president, including health care, the space program, bioethics, and more.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, his ideas for cooperation among nations in prior decades have included diverting large amounts of the U.S. Gross National Product (GNP) to countries in need of development aid.
In 1995, in accepting a Nobel prize on behalf of a large group of scientists, Holdren said investing about 10 to 20 percent of the GNP of developed countries in less developed ones was vital to a world of “durable security.”
Pointing to the conclusions of geochemist Harrison Brown in the 1950’s, Holdren said, “(T)he cooperative effort needed to create the basis for durable prosperity, and hence durable security, for all the world’s people would require an investment equivalent to 10 to 20 percent of the rich countries’ GNPs, sustained over several decades. In 1995, these figures do not seem far wrong, but they are said to be politically unrealistic: nothing approaching them has ever been seriously contemplated by the world’s governments. Until this changes, a world free of war…will remain just a dream.”
Similarly, in his 1973 book “Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions,” he suggested “de-developing” the United States to benefit other, poorer nations.
“A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States,” Holdren and two co-authors wrote. “De-development means bringing our economic system (especially patterns of consumption) into line with the realities of ecology and the global resource situation. Resources and energy must be diverted from frivolous and wasteful uses of overdeveloped countries to filling the genuine needs of underdeveloped countries.”
“This effort must be largely political, especially with regard to our overexploitation of world resources, but the campaign should be strongly supplemented by legal and boycott action against polluters and others whose activities damage the environment,” he said.
Holdren has rebuffed the efforts of CNSNews.com and other media to discuss his former positions on multiple occasions, and he did not take questions from the press at the AAAS event.