White House

Presidential science advisor Holdren: exhilaration still beats frustration

The transition to the second term of the Obama Administration has resulted in a number of key administration officials choosing to leave, most notably the Secretaries of State and Defense. The administration’s top science policy official, though, suggested over the weekend that he plans to stick around.

“People always ask me what the job is like,” said John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), during a panel session on dealing with uncertainty in science policy-making at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston on Saturday. “And I always say it’s a mixture of exhilaration and frustration, but exhilaration is still winning.”

Holdren was responding to a question about the expected departures of a number of scientists from postions in the administration, such as Jane Lubchenco as administrator of NOAA and Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy. “My prediction is that many of those will be replaced by scientists of comparable distinction,” Holdren said.

As for his own work, Holdren described working for a president more interested in details on science and technology issues than he anticipated. He said there’s long been a rule of thumb that you don’t give a president a memo more than two pages. Holdren adhered to that rule in his first memo to President Obama. “It came back with his handwriting scrawled across the top: ‘Where’s the rest?’” Holdren recalled. His average memo to the president, he said, is now five to six pages.

“It helps to have a boss who knows how and why science and technology matter, and therefore makes sure you are in the room when you need to be in the room” to provide input on relevant issues, Holdren said, indicating the president was such a person. “The degree of success that you can have in this position does depend on your relationship with the boss and also with your relationship with the other senior advisors around the president.”

Holdren did not discuss space policy specifically during the session, and did not stick around for questions afterwards, citing another meeting. However, his comments did suggest that Holdren will continue to have a key role in shaping those issues for some time to come.

33 comments to Presidential science advisor Holdren: exhilaration still beats frustration

  • amightywind

    He said there’s long been a rule of thumb that you don’t give a president a memo more than two pages. Holdren adhered to that rule in his first memo to President Obama. “It came back with his handwriting scrawled across the top: ‘Where’s the rest?

    Holden continues to stoke the myth that the President is a great intellect. Pretty cheeky given that Obama refuses to release his college transcripts. I wish I could see any evidence of it. What we do know is that Holdren’s space program is moribund.

    • Robert G. Oler

      “What we do know is that Holdren’s space program is moribund.”

      we know the program that the GOP and a few Dems (but mostly GOP porkers) forced on Holdren is. SLS is buckling and Orion is cracking and a tubby program. Both are billions over budget slipping in time and no where near flight status.

      On the other hand commercial space is thriving…March 1 another Dragon flies…there is going to be a Bigelow module on the station…

      and then there is Dennis Tito’s announcement…which you have to wonder whose hardware that is going to us.

      these are interesting times, to bad none of it is happening at NASA. RGO

  • Mark Whittington

    “a boss who knows how and why science and technology matter.” Really? One wonders why, then, the president suggested, against scientific evidence, that storms like Sandy are caused by global warming?

    • amightywind

      Not to mention his 30 years of Malthusian predictions that have proven to be incorrect.

    • Both you and Windy, see Coastal Ron’s comment below.

      • amightywind

        Off topic. What is in dispute is Holdren’s implying that Obama is a genius compared to his predecessors. Please keep up.

        • Robert G. Oler

          What is in dispute is Holdren’s implying that Obama is a genius compared to his predecessors. Please keep up.”

          where did Holdren use the word “genius”? are or you just making that up? RGO

        • Coastal Ron

          amightywind said:

          What is in dispute is Holdren’s implying that Obama is a genius compared to his predecessors.

          Compared to Bush43? Definitely an argument could be made… ;-)

          But all that Holdren stated is that Obama wants more details than a 2-page memo. He never used the word “genius”, you did.

          You (and likely others) are assuming that Obama’s information needs are the same as Holdren’s previous information customers, yet you don’t know who they were or what their information needs were.

          Also, are you implying that asking for more information is a bad thing? Or that you are disappointed that it somehow goes against your anti-Obama narrative?

    • Robert G. Oler

      Mark Whittington said “One wonders why, then, the president suggested, against scientific evidence, that storms like Sandy are caused by global warming?”

      this is from a person (you) who bought all the misleading about the Iraq war, the Iraq war paying for itself, the Iraq war being conducted by 50,000 Americans top, tax cuts (or rates take your pick) for the rich paying for themselves; the lies about Cx, the lies about SLS/Orion;

      Who bought into the “unskewed polls” nonesense….whose basic theory is “if a Republican says it and I agree with it then its the truth and if Obama says it, it is a lie”

      So sad we dont have that scion of science Todd Akin to kick around anymore RGO

    • DCSCA

      One wonders why, then, the president suggested, against scientific evidence, that storms like Sandy are caused by global warming? mocked Mar.

      This is just stupid, Mark. ‘Denial’ is a river in Egypt.

  • Guest

    As far as I know nobody has claimed that these kinds of storms are ’caused’ by global warming, rather that the frequency, intensity and structural evolution and behavior of these kind so storms are enhanced by the increased energy and water vapor content of the atmosphere and the increased heat content in the oceans and changes in ocean and atmosphere dynamics that we know are occurring because of the phenomenon of global warming.

    I can’t quite tell if you know that or not.

    • yg1968

      Obama said that “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” Obama mislead people by implying that Sandy was caused by global warming. Global warming is not predicted to have an impact on Hurricanes until 2080. It clearly didn’t have an impact on Sandy.

      • Guest

        Implying that all natural phenomena are mere coincidences isn’t science.

      • Coastal Ron

        yg1968 said:

        Obama mislead people by implying that Sandy was caused by global warming.

        He was talking about the trend of more powerful storms (like Sandy) that are predicted by global warming models, and so far the model is proving correct. For a public official to ignore clear warnings of future disasters is not in the publics interest, so I’m not really sure what your beef is.

        Would you prefer the “head in the sand” approach? Ask the coastal residents of New Jersey and Long Island how that worked out…

        • yg1968

          What Obama said is incorrect. The study on global warming and hurricanes stated that the impact from global warming would be that there would be less hurricanes but that they would be more violent. But this cause and effect would not appear until 2080. In a nutshell, Obama has no basis in saying that Sandy was caused by global warming. It wasn’t.

    • If you think that there is any kind of distinction between those two statements, you’re kind of…illogical.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    It’s probably more President Obama’s background in Law than any comment on intellect. A lawyer is used to receiving painfully detailed memos to ensure that there is no room for misinterpretation in matters that could easily lead to tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits. For such a person, receiving a one-page executive summary is probably close to a nightmare scenario.

  • E. P. Grondine

    Hello everyone –

    This is a space politics bbs, not a global warming bbs. As Jeff has specifically asked that it not be used to debate global warming, one has to wonder why AW is doing that. The answer is clear.

    There are plenty of other places where global warming can be discussed.

    The only place where the two intersect is in NASA’s work on solar variability and its effects on Earth, and NASA’s work on atmospheric monitoring probes. My hope is that NASA will help in providing data that will lead to definitive, unchallengeable answers on global warming, answers that can then be used as a framework for setting policy.

    • Robert G. Oler

      The only place where the two intersect is in NASA’s work on solar variability and its effects on Earth, and NASA’s work on atmospheric monitoring probes”

      there is another notion; if one believes in facts and the scientific method or not…If Cx/SLS/Orion are any indication then the people in the GOP (and whatever Dems) who are supporting those programs do not hence their entire ‘notion’ of science should be at issue RGO

    • amightywind

      If you read my previous posts you’d see that I do not breech that tired subject.

  • Neil Shipley

    What’s Holdren’s record in the first term? What did he propose, recommend as opposed to achieving, i.e. swaying his boss to accept and implement his proposals/recommendations? I’d be interested if anyone has compiled this data?

  • Jeff Foust

    Discussion of climate change is off-topic here. Thank you for your cooperation.

  • DCSCA

    “The degree of success that you can have in this position does depend on your relationship with the boss and also with your relationship with the other senior advisors around the president.”

    Translation- I like my job penning six page memos and if I can’t blind you with facts, I’ll baffle you with bulls–t. Please don’t jettison me, Mr. President.

    Past iime Holdren asked the President exactly which Apollo recovery welcoming he attended as a child. Make it concise: a one page memo. There’s plenty of film records covering them all and he could be found in the crowds.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Pause to remember what happened on Feb 20, 1962…

    Along with seeing the spacecraft, talking with the now Senator and having some “stuff” from Kano Control…I’ve seen the only known surviving fragments of the Atlas launch vehicle in the Pretoria SA science museum. “Zero G and I feel fine” RGO

  • Dark Blue Nine

    This, a manned circum-Mars mission, is exhilirating:

    http://www.newspacejournal.com/2013/02/21/new-insights-on-that-private-crewed-mars-mission/

    But it’s a private effort, and Holdren and the White House can’t claim much credit for it beyond the few hundred million they’ve put into crewed Dragon via CCDev.

    Unfortunately, the vast bulk of the billions spent by the Obama Administration on human space exploration development is frustratingly going to an overweight, broken Apollo-era capsule program and an heavy lift launch vehicle that is so expensive that the only piece of actual exploration hardware underway is getting built in Europe.

    It would be nice if, instead of reflecting on his own exhiliration and frustration, Holdren could focus to reduce a lot of frustration with NASA’s political constraints so that there could be a lot more exhilirating space program for our tax dollars.

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