Ron Bailey has some background on Dr. Holdren.
I put the “science” in quotes, because I’ve always thought the position misnamed. It’s really about science and technology (as indicated by the name — the Office of Science and Technology Policy), and the science advisor should also be a technologist, not just a scientist. Either that, or get a different and separate advisor for technology. When you put a “science” advisor in charge of providing advice on NASA, it reinforces the false perception that NASA is primarily about science, which results in all manner of policy ills.
In any event, I hope that Dr. Holdren has modified his environmental views from the seventies, and no longer allies himself with Paul Ehrlich.
Yuval Levin has more thoughts and concerns:
Perhaps more striking is his activism well beyond his own academic specialty, arguing, for instance, that scientists have a responsibility to advance the cause of the elimination of all nuclear weapons and seeking controls on population growth. And he didn’t say all this in the 1970s either—have a good look at the speech he delivered when he assumed the leadership of the AAAS in 2006. It describes a fundamentally activist liberal mentality about the very purpose of science and its place in our kind of society. My favorite part of that speech is his call for ending population growth which, in the published text of the speech, is accompanied by this footnote:
This was the key insight in Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (Ballantine, New York, 1968), as well as one of those in Harrison Brown’s prescient earlier book, The Challenge of Man’s Future (Viking, New York, 1954). The elementary but discomfiting truth of it may account for the vast amount of ink, paper, and angry energy that has been expended trying in vain to refute it.
The Population Bomb was the book in which Ehrlich predicted that “in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death,” because all the world’s resources were running out while population was growing out of control, and there was simply no way we could sustain our civilization at modern levels of consumption and growth. Just about every one of the book’s predictions has proven wrong, and its empirical claims and methods have not held up well under later scholarly scrutiny. It certainly made a useful political point for the left, though.
I wonder if all those who complained about the supposed “politicization of science” by the Bush administration will raise worries about Holdren…don’t you?
No, actually, I don’t wonder at all. I think we know the answer to that one.
[Update a few minutes later]
Here’s more from John Tierney:
Does being spectacularly wrong about a major issue in your field of expertise hurt your chances of becoming the presidential science advisor? Apparently not, judging by reports from DotEarth and ScienceInsider that Barack Obama will name John P. Holdren as his science advisor on Saturday.
Dr. Holdren, now a physicist at Harvard, was one of the experts in natural resources whom Paul Ehrlich enlisted in his famous bet against the economist Julian Simon during the “energy crisis” of the 1980s. Dr. Simon, who disagreed with environmentalists’ predictions of a new “age of scarcity” of natural resources, offered to bet that any natural resource would be cheaper at any date in the future. Dr. Ehrlich accepted the challenge and asked Dr. Holdren, then the co-director of the graduate program in energy and
resources at the University of California, Berkeley, and another Berkeley professor, John Harte, for help in choosing which resources would become scarce.
In 1980 Dr. Holdren helped select five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — and joined Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Harte in betting $1,000 that those metals would be more expensive ten years later. They turned out to be wrong on all five metals, and had to pay up when the bet came due in 1990.
I hadn’t realized that there were other bettors besides Ehrlich, or that Holdren had made the pick. To be honest, I had never heard of the guy until Obama named him. So now we shift from a “Republican war on science” to a “Democrat war on science.” Or, perhaps, a Democrat war on the economy and freedom in the ostensible name of science. And I have no idea what this portends for space policy.
[Late afternoon update]
“Solve Climate” has an extensive set of Holdren links. I sure hope that he at least gets some tough questioning in confirmation hearings.