News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Lewis Branscomb Gift Launches New Center for Science and Democracy

April 30, 2012

Belfer Center Faculty, Board Member Gives $1 Million to Union of Concerned Scientists

Lewis M. Branscomb, director emeritus of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program and member of the Center’s board of directors, has presented a $1 million gift to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to help launch a Center for Science and Democracy. Branscomb, the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management (emeritus) at Harvard Kennedy School and adjunct professor at the University of California San Diego, is a prominent physicist and intellectual leader on science and policymaking.

In announcing the gift, a USC press release said the Center for Science and Democracy will work toward restoring the essential role that science, evidence-based knowledge, and constructive debate play in the U.S. policymaking process.

A cornerstone of the Center for Science and Democracy will be the Lewis M. Branscomb Science and Democracy Forum. The forum series will bring experts, decision makers, and the public together to tackle key issues at the intersection of science and democracy, including special interests’ influence on science used in government decision-making.

 “Science has been the absolute bedrock of technological and economic progress in the United States,” Branscomb added. “In making this gift, it is my hope that fact-based policies will more often guide political decisions. We need to take a hard look at where our national public policy debates are falling short when it comes to respecting the unique role science plays in society. And we can do a better job as scientists in helping people see where our research fits into those debates.”

UCS will formally launch its Center for Science and Democracy with two launch events. The first, on the East Coast, will take place in Somerville, Massachusetts on May 17. The second, for the West Coast, will take place on June 13 in La Jolla, California.

Branscomb pioneered the study of atomic and molecular negative ions and their role in the atmospheres of the earth and stars. He served on President Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee and was appointed by President Nixon as director of what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Presidents Carter and Reagan also appointed him to public service positions.

He currently focuses on domestic and international research and innovation policy and on the management of science and technology in the furtherance of democratic governance, economic equity, and safety and security. Branscomb was co-founder of JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics), a project of the University of Colorado and NIST, which engages in research across many fields, including atomic physics and chemistry and related topics in astrophysics. His online biography offers a fuller view of his achievements and service.

Branscomb originally became involved with UCS in the early 2000s, after scientists became aware of several high-profile instances of political interference in federal science. Branscomb was one of 62 eminent scientists who first wrote a letter -- ultimately signed by thousands of their colleagues – calling for the restoration of scientific integrity to federal policymaking. Their work galvanized the scientific community and planted the seeds for UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program, which continues to expose political interference in science and protect the scientists and science that inform federal decisions.


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For Academic Citation:Lewis Branscomb Gift Launches New Center for Science and Democracy.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, April 30, 2012.