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William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor
The University of Chicago
These are perilous times for science—the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted as perhaps never before prevalent skepticism of “expert advice” based on science, skepticism compounded by the ease by which social media disseminates mis- and disinformation. I believe our Society must respond vigorously, advocating for science, and physics in particular, at all levels—from the federal Executive Branch and its federal science agencies, Congress, and the States, to the media and the general public. Besides supporting research, we must be active in educating the public and in contributing our expertise to policy making, to be an advocate for fact-based and science-based policies. These concerns have motivated me to run for this election; and are central to how I would approach strengthening APS during these difficult times if elected.
These issues amplify the importance to our field, and to APS, of inclusivity—the importance of affording opportunities to everyone who aspires to work in physics, whether as a researcher, a teacher, or a journalist (or perhaps all 3!). The equity issues related to ensuring diversity and inclusivity are to me obvious and compelling, and why I strongly support proactive steps to increase involvement of the underrepresented in our field: It’s simply the right thing to do. I might add that failure to act fosters perceptions of science as an exclusive group, as an “elite” and “other”. “Science is for everyone” carries two meanings: the clear importance of science to society as well as the aspirational desire to become a scientist. Reaching out to the public in order to make our work accessible, to make plain the simple pleasures of understanding how things work and working to connect our science to address societal issues, is intimately related to this point: These are key elements of trust building with the public at large, and together with promoting inclusivity in our discipline, are clearly core to the mission of our Society. I’ve been involved in a variety of efforts in this direction, from teaching and public lecturing to working with the Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago (where I’ve helped to create exhibits and assisted in bringing a “Fab Lab” to the museum).
While my research background is in theoretical and computational physics and astrophysics, I have a broad appreciation of the diversity of our field: I served as Chief Scientist and Director of Argonne National Laboratory; I was the first (founding) chair of the Department of Energy National Laboratory Directors’ Council; and co-founded the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago. At Argonne and at the Energy Policy Institute I’ve also had experience studying, formulating, and authoring policies for climate, energy, and sustainability. As chair of the APS Panel on Public Affairs, I dealt with the controversial 2013-4 review of the Society’s statement on climate change; and most recently served as chair of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Thus, I am familiar with the challenges faced by the physics community when dealing with highly controversial subjects in a manner that is true to our values as scientists, and remain confident that we as a Society can deal successfully with such issues—and must continue to do so.
If elected, I would consider that the highest of the honors bestowed on me by my colleagues, serving in the APS presidential line during these difficult times.