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

Q&A: Daniel Schrag

| Fall/Winter 2015-2016

Daniel Schrag, the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology and professor of environmental science and engineering at Harvard, is the new director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program (STPP). Schrag, who has a doctorate in geology, also directs the Harvard University Center for the Environment. He studies climate and climate change in the distant past and works on issues related to energy technology and policy. Schrag is also a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology.

Q.You bring to the Belfer Center 12 years of experience as director of the Harvard Center for the Environment (HUCE) and an extensive background in climate and other environmental challenges and solutions. As the new director of the Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy program (STPP), where do you see the most symbiosis with HUCE?

A.One of the main areas of research for the last 20 years of the STPP Program has been energy and climate policy. When I arrived at Harvard in 1997, I was immediately encouraged by then STPP directorJohn Holdrento get involved with the STPP program. Through interactions with him and many others at the Kennedy School, my interests in science and policy grew—and have been reflected in the activities of HUCE over the past decade.  So now, as the new director of STPP, I have an opportunity to extend that great tradition, in the context of what I have been calling a program on “Energy Transformation.” That program will explore the energy transition to non-fossil technologies over the next many decades, while considering concerns for reliability, cost, and security.

This is a perfect partnership between STPP and HUCE, as it requires deep scientific and technological understanding of energy systems and of the climate challenges we face, but also a deep understanding of the role of public policy in navigating the transition. It is also a great way to bring together many of the experts in energy and environmental policy at HKS, both from the Belfer Center and beyond.

Q.What are some of your plans for the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program?

A.Besides the core effort on energy and climate, which is an obvious extension of my own research interests, I also want STPP to focus on the ways that information technology is changing government.  Over the past six years of serving on President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors (PCAST), I have watched while the President brought young technology folks from Silicon Valley into the White House, and witnessed the many ways they have changed the way that government works. This is a fascinating interface between science, technology, and public policy, and I want to help the Belfer Center and the Kennedy School build a world-class program of research and teaching in this area.

A central theme for the Belfer Center will be cybersecurity—as many experts feel that this is one of the greatest challenges we face.  Cybersecurity is an issue that requires not just knowledge of existing technologies and capabilities, but also an appreciation and vision for how these capabilities will change in the future, including artificial intelligence and machine learning. I look forward to working with others at the Belfer Center to build a substantial effort in this area.  At the same time, an effort on cybersecurity requires complementary research and teaching on the role of technology in government, as the evolution of how information technology is used helps determine what vulnerabilities exist.  And finally, the role of information technology in politics and social movements is another fascinating area that also requires a combination of different types of expertise.

Another important investment I want to make is in building a stronger bridge between the sciences and engineering at Harvard and the Kennedy School.  I want to increase the frequency of interactions between scientists and policy experts on these issues, providing opportunities similar to the one that I was given by John Holdren and others.

Finally, we need to keep our eyes open to new problems at the interface of science, technology, and public policy in the future. There are many important new frontiers of science, from nanotechnology to synthetic biology.  I want to make sure we bring in the best young minds as scholars each year, and provide them the opportunity to explore new issues as they emerge.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Schrag, Daniel. Q&A: Daniel Schrag.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Fall/Winter 2015-2016).