Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Frank Press, Jimmy Carter, and the Neutrino Crisis

Geologist and former Presidential Science Advisor Dr. Frank Press told a wonderful story the other night about President Jimmy Carter. We were gathered at the stately Cosmos Club (founded by John Wesley Powell) near DuPont Circle in Washington DC for the annual Pick and Gavel awards ceremony. The Pick and Gavel award (http://www.stategeologists.org/pick.html) is given by the Association of American State Geologists (of which Arizona is a member) to recognize significant contributions to the geosciences in the public policy arena. The event has become one for the entire DC geoscience community to come together in celebration.

2007 Pick & Gavel Award to Dr. Frank Press is unique fluorite-sphalerite specimen (above)

Frank Press, in addition to his presidential advisor role from 1977-1981, was also president of the National Academies of Science for 12 years, and is the co-author of one of the most acclaimed and widely read geology text books in the world, “Earth.”

The Pick and Gavel award itself is always a unique mineral specimen, typically valued at many thousands of dollars mounted on a wooden base.

Well, in accepting the award, Frank talked warmly about the relationship that developed between him and his boss, Jimmy Carter, who Frank characterizes as the most scientifically literate president since Thomas Jefferson.

Carter would hold daily staff meetings at 7am, often being the first one there, after pouring over the daily newspapers. At one memorable meeting, Carter, sitting at the head of the large conference table, called to Frank who was across the room at the other end, and said that he had seen in the New York Times science section that a new report showed there was a shortage of neutrinos coming from the Sun. He finished by saying, “keep me apprised of the situation, Frank.”

As soon as the meeting ended, Frank found himself surrounded by the other presidential staff. The National Security Advisor hurried over and pushed to the front of the crowd, worriedly asking, “Frank, is this a crisis?’

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