Nearly half of all US presidential science advisors have had ties to the Institute


MIT, the host for yesterday's 25th anniversary celebration of the creation of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, has many links to presidential science advisors.

Eight of the 18 formal or informal science advisors to the President of the United States since 1940 have had ties to MIT, starting with Vannevar Bush, a member of the Class of 1916 and MIT vice president. He was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as chairman of the National Defense Research Committee in 1940.

James R. Killian Jr. was appointed by Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first special assistant to the president for science and technology in 1957, when Killian was president of MIT. Killian, a member of the Class of 1926 and MIT president from 1949-59, served as Eisenhower's science advisor from 1957-59.

Other informal or formal presidential science advisors with MIT connections include:

  • Lee DuBridge (Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Nixon), the second chairman of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) under Truman and Eisenhower, and director of MIT's wartime Radiation Laboratory, which developed the key technology of radar instruments.
  • Isidor Rabi (Eisenhower), the third chair of PSAC and associate director of MIT's Radiation Laboratory.
  • Jerome Wiesner (Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson), director of the Research Laboratory of Electronics and later dean of science, provost and president of MIT.
  • Edward E. David (Nixon), who received the SM and ScD in 1950 and is a life trustee of MIT.
  • H. Guyford Stever (Nixon and Ford), head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering from 1961-65.
  • Frank Press (Carter), head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences from 1965-77.

Vannevar Bush served Roosevelt for five years and continued on into the term of Harry S Truman, although historians of the field say Truman ignored him.

In between Bush and Killian were a number of scientists who advised the president in a less formal way, according to government historians and Dr. William Wells, former chief of staff to Presidential Science Advisors D. Allan Bromley (G.H.W. Bush), John H. Gibbons (Clinton) and Neal Lane (Clinton). Dr. Wells, now retired, wrote his thesis on the office of science advisor.

The list of science advisors following Dr. Killian are:

  • George B. Kistiakowsky (Eisenhower), 1959-61
  • Jerome B. Wiesner (Kennedy and Johnson), 1961-64
  • Donald Hornig (Johnson), 1964-69
  • Lee A. DuBridge (Nixon), 1969-70
  • Edward E. David Jr. (Nixon), 1970-73
  • H. Guyford Stever served Nixon from 1973-74 as science advisor, although Nixon had abolished the post of special assistant for science and technology. Stever stayed on with President Ford, who restored the assistant and created the post of Director of the Office of Science Technology and Policy in 1976.
  • Frank Press (Carter), 1977-81
  • George A. Keyworth II (Reagan), 1981-86
  • John P. McTague (Reagan), 1986
  • William R. Graham (Reagan), 1986-89
  • D. Allan Bromley (G.H.W. Bush), 1989-93
  • John H. Gibbons (Clinton), 1993-98
  • Neal Lane (Clinton), 1998-2001

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 2, 2001.


Topics: Administration, National relations and service

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