Friday, August 5, 2011

Deceased--John Marburger III

John Marburger III
February 8th, 1941 to July 28th, 2011

"John Marburger III dies at 70; science advisor to President George W. Bush"

Physicist John H. Marburger III also was a dean at USC, president of State University of New York at Stony Brook and head of Brookhaven National Laboratory.


Thomas H. Maugh II

August 5th, 2011

Los Angeles Times

Physicist John H. Marburger III, who served as President George W. Bush's science advisor at a time when most researchers considered science to be under attack by the government, died July 28 at his home in Port Jefferson, N.Y. He was 70 and had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

He also served as dean of USC's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, as president of State University of New York at Stony Brook and as head of Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

"Jack Marburger was a superb advocate for science, a visionary leader, and a highly skilled administrator who successfully led three vital institutions," said Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., the current president of Stony Brook. "He was a man of extraordinary energy, a man who loved solving problems both scientific and administrative, a man of action, who was also thoughtful, contemplative and very strategic."

When Marburger took office as science advisor and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in September 2001, the eight-month-old Bush administration was already being attacked as anti-science. The executive branch installed new rules sharply limiting the use of fetal stem cells in research and called into question much of the science relating to global warming. Critics charged that the administration also disbanded or stacked scientific advisory committees to reflect its own political goals rather than to seek scientific truth.

Marburger, a lifelong Democrat, was forced to defend those positions, which caused at least one scientist, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, to say, "I think he probably is enough of a scientist to realize that he basically has become a prostitute."

Most researchers, however, continued to hold great respect for Marburger and the even-handed way he managed his duties. Physicist Lewis M. Branscomb, a former head of the National Bureau of Standards and a member of advisory committees for four presidents, commiserated with Marburger's difficulties.

"I have a great deal of sympathy for his position, because I don't believe he has the authority, the power, to go back to the agencies and unearth all the facts about all these cases," Branscomb said.

Marburger repeatedly made it clear that it was his job to offer the best possible advice to the president and to promote the administration's policies, whether he agreed with them or not.

"No one will know my personal positions on issues as long as I am in this job," he said in 2004. "I am here to make sure the science input to policy making is sound and that the executive branch functions properly with respect to its science and technology missions."

Perhaps his biggest misstep involved his response to a February 2004 open letter from 60 highly respected scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates. The letter argued that the Bush administration had shut down scientific advisory committees, stacked others with unqualified but politically correct appointees and censored reports that conflicted with the administration's views.

Marburger was highly critical of the letter, arguing that there had been only a few such incidents that might have "ruffled feathers" and that the letter was a "conspiracy theory report." Critics said he reacted much too hastily rather than promising to examine the issues raised by the scientists.

Bush released a statement last week calling Marburger "a joy to work with" and noting that "Jack was dedicated to his field, his family and his country." As president, Bush was considered to be enamored of the clear, concise manner in which Marburger explained complicated concepts.

John Harmen Marburger III was born Feb. 8, 1941, on Staten Island and raised in Maryland. He received his bachelor's degree in physics from Princeton University in 1962 and his doctorate from Stanford University in 1967. His primary field of research was on the interactions of laser light with matter, but his other activities ultimately left little time for research.

Upon his graduation, he joined the faculty of USC, becoming chairman of the physics department and ultimately rising to the position of dean. In 1980, he was brought in as president of Stony Brook, where severe budget cuts had been leading to wide declines in research. There, he brought in massive new federal funding and established a medical school and hospital.

In 1997, he helped the university gain a contract to run Brookhaven, and he was the natural choice to head it. He played a key role in establishing the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, a major accelerator, at the laboratory. After his stint in Washington, he returned to the lab, where he became vice president for research.

Marburger enjoyed gardening, music, reading, horseback riding and, especially, woodworking. He built a working harpsichord by hand.

He is survived by his wife of 46 years, the former Carol Preston Godfrey; two sons, John of Annandale, Va., and Alexander of Jamaica Plain, N.Y.; a grandson; and his sister, Mary Hoffman-Habig of Edgewater, Md.

"John H. Marburger, Bush Science Adviser, Dies at 70"


Paul Vitello

July 29th, 2011

The New York Times

John H. Marburger III, a physicist, former college president and Democrat who served as science adviser to President George W. Bush and was frequently called on to defend his policies on birth control, stem cell research and climate change, died Thursday at his home in Port Jefferson, Long Island. He was 70.

The cause was non-Hodgkins lymphoma, his family said.

Dr. Marburger, a mild-mannered scientist who maintained the respect of most colleagues even as many of them were harshly critical of the Bush White House, had earned a reputation as an even-handed manager of difficult assignments in the decades before his White House appointment in 2001.

He was named president of the State University at Stony Brook on Long Island in 1980, at a time when state budget cuts were severely straining the campus. Dr. Marburger was credited with returning Stony Brook to a path of modest growth.

When Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appointed him chairman of a fact-finding commission on the contentious issue of the unfinished Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island in 1983, he supervised a group of scientists who arrived at a consensus with which he did not agree. Announcing their findings — that the plant should never open — he told interviewers that he disagreed but added: “The governor didn’t want my opinion. He told me that. The governor wanted to know what the situation was. And I delivered that.”

Dr. Marburger took over as director of Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island in 1998, shortly after revelations about leaks of radioactive tritium from a research reactor set off widespread community outrage. He was credited with creating policies that quelled the storm. And on orders from the Energy Department, he eventually presided over the shutdown of the reactor, though he told interviewers at the time that he thought closing it was a mistake.

Dr. Marburger’s support for nuclear power, and his credentials as a respected scientist with management skills, led President Bush to appoint him as his science adviser and nominate him as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in September 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Dr. Marburger was said to have surprised some in the White House when, in answering a reporter’s question, he revealed that he was a Democrat.

But as successful as he may have been in managing conflict in past jobs, Dr. Marburger encountered new controversy in Washington. He was widely criticized for defending Bush policies on abstinence-only education and global warming, especially in his defense against an assertion by the National Academy of Sciences that political influence was contaminating the scientific research in government agencies.

In a critical editorial in April 2004, The New York Times, addressing accusations that the Bush administration had distorted or suppressed scientific information that would conflict with its policy preferences, acknowledged the respect Dr. Marburger commanded, calling him “a respected physicist and lifelong Democrat who would not seem an automatic apologist for this administration.” But it added, “The question yet to be answered is whether he is speaking from conviction when he claims that the critics are off base or is serving as a frontman for an administration whose activities in this area are sometimes hard to defend.”

He explained his position to an interviewer that same month. On matters of public policy, he said: “No one will know my personal positions on issues as long as I am in this job. I am here to make sure that the science input to policy making is sound and that the executive branch functions properly with respect to its science and technology missions.”

John Harmen Marburger III was born Feb. 8, 1941, on Staten Island to Virginia Smith and John H. Marburger Jr., a civil engineer who became director of public works for Prince George’s County, Md. He graduated from Princeton and received a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford in 1967. His research focused on the interaction of ultra-intense laser light with matter.

He was a professor of physics and electrical engineering at the University of Southern California, and later chairman of the physics department and dean of the university’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, before being appointed president of Stony Brook in 1980.

His survivors include his wife, Carol; their two sons, John, of Annandale, Va., and Alexander, of Jamaica Plain, Mass.; and a grandson. His younger sister, Mary Hoffman-Habig, of Edgewater, Md., also survives. An older sister, Eleanor, died of leukemia when she was 17.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Bush said that Dr. Marburger had been “a joy to work with,” adding, “Jack was dedicated to his field, his family, and his country.”

In a 2004 interview with The Times, Dr. Marburger articulated what he saw as the fine line between scientific research and political policy using the example of stem cells. Stem cells, he said, “offer great promise for addressing incurable diseases and afflictions. But I can’t tell you when a fertilized egg becomes sacred. That’s not my job. That’s not a science issue. And so whatever I think about reproductive technology or choice, or whatever, is irrelevant to my job as a science adviser.”

John Marburger III [Wikipedia]

No comments: