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My Science Adviser

Yesterday I went to the White House to talk to the president's science adviser. He's not actually in the White House proper, nor in the Old Executive Office Building next door, but in the New Executive Office Building, which is on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue. When I'm president all this will change. The science adviser will be directly next to the Oval Office. He will never be far from sight, and some people will mistake him for a bodyguard. No matter how important the meeting, he will have authority to burst in the room with the latest bulletin from the World of Science.

"Mr. President," he will say, breathlessly, "they've sequenced the squirrel genome."

"Our guys?" I'll say.

"No, the Russians."

"Good God. Get me the Secretary of Defense."

And so on. If an astronomer detects an unusual gamma ray burst from the Andromeda Galaxy, I'll want to know about it pronto. When a paleontologist finds a fragment of a skull that might cast light on the evolution of modern human beings, the president ought to know before such a thing leaks to the general public. The science adviser will be in the thick of every policy decision, and I'll turn to him for speechwriting help. I'll say, "Remind me how I can plausibly endorse the use of alternative fuels even as I'm opening the Arctic wildlife refuge to oil drilling."

And at the end of a long day, as we stand on the Truman Balcony, smoking Cubans, I'll say, "Mr. Science Adviser, tell me again why the sky turns red at dusk."

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 18, 2005; 10:07 AM ET
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