November 6, 2019
Late last month, President Trump issued an executive order that brought new life to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), an advisory committee to advise the president on topics concerning science, technology, and innovation. Variations of this board date back to 1933 with former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Science Advisory Board, but it officially became PCAST during President George H. W. Bush’s administration in 1990. The last meeting of PCAST was held under the Obama administration 33 months prior to the order.
Current Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier, will chair the council, and Edward McGinnis, formerly of the Department of Energy, will serve as Executive Director. The Council will be made of 16 other members including Catherine Bessant, Bank of America; Dr. H. Fisk Johnson, S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.; Dr. Dario Gil, IBM Research; Dr. Sharon Hrynkow, Cyclo Therapeutics; Dr. A.N. Sreeram, Dow Chemical; Shane Wall, HP Labs; and Dr. K. Birgitta Whaley, University of California-Berkley. While only 7 of the intended 16 members have been announced, the scientific community is expecting additional members to come from the academy. Currently, 6 out of the 7 are from industry.
According to an article in Science, Dr. Dario Gil already has a list of what he hopes PCAST will accomplish, including “promoting scientific inquiry and its value to policymakers, ensuring that researchers have the computational tools they need in an era of big data, retraining the U.S. workforce to be more technically literate, and updating a partnership between the federal government, academia, and industry.” Gil also thinks the government must strike the right balance between protecting national security and fostering international scientific collaboration with the rest of the world, using “a scalpel” instead of “a blanket policy” to monitor and prevent undue foreign influences on U.S. research.