In January 1974, TR published remarks made on October 4, 1973, when MIT convened the six scientists who’d chaired the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) to discuss the subject of “Science Advice for the White House.” It was a remembrance service of sorts, as President Nixon had recently abolished the committee. What role, if any, a science advisor would have in future administrations was an open question.
What a difference 16 years had made. On another October 4, this one in 1957, the Soviet Union had, with the launch of Sputnik, gotten the jump in the space race; Americans demanded to know how the president planned to catch up. Eisenhower quickly established PSAC, with James R. Killian, then the president of MIT, at its head. The president explained that the move would “make it possible for me, personally, whenever there appears to be any unnecessary delay in our development system, to act promptly and decisively.”
Killian and the 18 scientists he recruited to form PSAC found an ideal patron in Eisenhower, and the committee played a key role in developing national-security strategy, establishing NASA, and reforming the national science curriculum. But the relationship between the president and his science advisors (Eisenhower referred to them as “my scientists”) went deeper than any particular policy discussions, Killian recalled:
The importance of PSAC goes far beyond the specific outcomes of its studies and recommendations because of the relationships of confidence and free discussion that PSAC enjoyed with the President and the President’s associates. … These meetings, in which there was free-for-all discussion, were memorable events for PSAC itself. They made it possible for a group of scientists to come to understand the President’s problems, views, and goals, and to learn how to make themselves useful in the light of this understanding. So it was that the Committee found many ways to express its belief in the values of a free society not only for the advancement of science but for the good of mankind.