Physicist John Marburger appears to be the leading candidate to become science adviser to President George W. Bush. Washington science policy circles were abuzz today with rumors that Marburger, director of the Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, could be named to fill the position as early as next week.
As science adviser, Marburger would be responsible for advising the president on a wide range of scientific and technical issues, from ballistic missile defense and nuclear nonproliferation, to genetic engineering and global climate change. Traditionally, the science adviser has also headed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Marburger and the White House would not comment on the rumors, but many in the science community say he would be a fine choice to fill a post that they complain has been left vacant for too long. "He's been a relatively noncontroversial administrator," says one science observer, "and he's extremely concerned about the public's perception of the value of science."
Marburger, 60, is a prominent laser physicist and former professor who served as president of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, from 1980 to 1994. In 1997, he became president of Brookhaven Science Associates, the public-private partnership that took over management of the Brookhaven lab after a reactor leak and management missteps led to the ouster of the previous management team. He also served on a wide array of government advisory panels.
The names of several scientists have been bandied about as possible science advisers since Bush took office in January, based on visits to the White House, ties to the former Texas governor, or both. Robert Richardson of Cornell University, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1996 for his work on supercooled helium, told White House officials last month that he "wasn't sure" he was interested in the job because he "enjoys being a professor." Chemist Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of North Carolina State University and a former professor at the University of Texas, Austin, assured her trustees the day after her 19 March interview that she was "committed to staying the course here in Raleigh." Fox, who is rumored to have been approached a second time, has also expressed concerns about access to the president.