Kim Stanley Robinson: If confronted with abrupt
climate change, can NSF do anything about it?
The first answer is no, but this is because NSF is not free to act on its own. It's not free to decide as an institution to do this or do that. It has its mandate from Congress, it has its budgets, it linkages of all kinds and it's working in concert with all the other political and scientific institutions around the world. But I think it's interesting to look at what happened when NSF was founded.
Vannevar Bush ran the office of Science and Technology during WWII. Everybody at that point, in 1945, was convinced that scientists had won the war. They had given them radar, penicillin, and notably, the atomic bomb. These guys (mostly) in white lab coats were obviously wizards of immense power and were possibly quite dangerous.
So the fist proposal that there be a science board to control the NSF, which came directly from the National Academy of Sciences, was rejected by Truman. "No, no, no," he said. "We've got to keep these guys under civilian control." And the analogy was with the military. You keep the military under civilian control in a civilized country, so you should keep the scientists under control in a civilized country, because science was seen as more or less the same. This is how it began, and its been a struggle ever since.
I think that was a category error. I think that science is not a problem like the military to be controlled by civilians. I think actually it is one form of the solution and that the scientific community needs to assert itself and in ways that would be difficult the way things are set up.