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William T. Golden Dies

9 October 2007 (All day)


William T. Golden.
Among a long list of contributions to U.S. science policy, Golden pushed to create the position of White House science adviser.

Science policy giant, financier and philanthropist William T. Golden of New York City and Olivebridge in Ulster County, New York, died on 6 October. He was 97.

Few figures have contributed more to American public science policy than Golden, whose long career of public service and charity helped shape both government research agencies and nonprofit science institutions. "He was a humanitarian scientist, … his love of science and its importance to humanity led to many gifts to all of us," says John Gibbons, science adviser to President William Clinton, calling Golden's contributions to U.S. science "almost immeasurable."

The grandchild of Lithuanian immigrants, Golden headed to Wall Street after earning a bachelor's degree in English and biology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1930. By 1950, however, having made a fortune as an investment banker, Golden began a long second career as an informal public policy adviser and science philanthropist. From 1950 to 1951, as a government consultant, he conducted a series of interviews with leading scientists and government officials that led to the creation of the position of White House science adviser. "I believe that your appointment of a Scientific Adviser to the President, with the duties described in this memorandum, would be very favorably received in the scientific community," Golden wrote in an oft-cited memo to President Harry Truman. In 1957, the position was created. Golden also helped organize the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Science Foundation, and served on innumerable government boards and advisory committees.

"His quiet but persistent emphasis on the importance of science and the importance of science input to government has had a profound impact," says Norman Neureiter, director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the publisher of ScienceNOW. "He once told me that he felt that every agency of government ought to have a science adviser," says Neureiter, who served as the first science adviser at the Department of State.

Golden was treasurer of AAAS for 30 years and a major contributor to the organization. One of several programs he established at AAAS, the Science and Technology Fellowships, has been grooming scientists for roles in public policy since 1973 and boasts more than 2000 former fellows throughout the U.S. government and science enterprise.

Other philanthropic roles included leadership and giving at the New York Academy of Sciences and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. He even tapped his considerable fortune to foster specific changes in the government. In a 1999 study, the National Research Council recommended that the State Department create a science adviser position; Golden personally paid for the study, which the State Department had requested and whose advice it accepted.

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