"A Tribute to Harvey Brooks"
Author: John P. Holdren, Former Director and Faculty Chair, Science, Technology and Public Policy Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Science, Technology, and Public Policy
Harvey Brooks passed away at the age of 88 on May 28, 2004, at the home on Brewster Street in Cambridge that he shared with his wife Helen for more than fifty years. He was the Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy, Emeritus, at the Kennedy School, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, Emeritus, in Harvard's Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and the founder in 1976 and director until 1986 of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy in the Kennedy School's Center for Science and International Affairs, today known as the Belfer Center.
Harvey Brooks was fascinated from the earliest stages of his career with interactions across boundaries: the interaction of fundamental with applied science, the interaction of science with technology, and the interactions across the still more complex and fractious boundary of science and technology with the public-policy process. This fascination with boundaries shaped a professional life in which Harvey, in turn, reshaped the understanding of all of us about the intersections of science and technology with each other and with society. For at least the last forty years of his life, he was the best known, most read, most respected scholar in the world in the field of science and technology policy-the acknowledged chief architect and dean of the discipline.
In a wonderful autobiographical sketch, "Autonomous Science," that he wrote a few years ago at the invitation of Annual Review of Energy and the Environment (2001, vol. 26, pp. 29-48), Harvey related that, as a schoolboy, "I had the incorrigible habit of constantly raising my hand with the correct answer ready should any child falter in his or her recitation." His "incorrigible habit" of being always ready to assist with the right answer was transformed, in his adult life, into a remarkable form of intellectual generosity which was one of his most celebrated characteristics. When a student, an understudy, or a colleague would give Harvey a rough draft of a prospectus, a proposal, a scholarly paper, or a book chapter for Harvey's reactions, what invariably came back-in a matter of hours or days but never more-was such a detailed, densely reasoned, and insightful set of comments that the submitter was tempted to throw away the draft and substitute, going forward, what Harvey had written in reaction.
It was always something of a mystery to me how Harvey found the time, in the midst of helping everyone around him, to generate his own immense output of original thinking and writing. I guess he thought and wrote faster than most of us, as well as better. And his accomplishments in the practice of science and technology policy were no less impressive than his contributions to teaching and scholarship in this domain. (Of course, his scholarship and his practice nourished each other.) He was one of the original members, in the 1950s, of the government's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, and in that capacity helped build the very foundations of modern practice in protecting the public from the risks that accompany the benefits of nuclear energy- risks that Harvey never exaggerated, but also never underestimated. He served on the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) in the White House under Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, and forever after was one of the shrewdest observers and chroniclers of the craft of science advice to the president.
Harvey was an exceptionally active and influential member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, participating in (and most often chairing) many major committees and studies for the National Academies and serving as President of the American Academy from 1971 to 1976. Largely through his academy role, Harvey was instrumental in the founding and/or the sustenance of a number of important international and interdisciplinary institutions, including the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, and the National Humanities Center in North Carolina.
Harvey served on the Harvard faculty for more than half a century, having been appointed the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics in 1950 at the age of 34. He served as Dean of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences from 1957 to 1975 and was appointed to his chair at the Kennedy School in 1972. There, he conspired with Don K. Price in setting up what became, in 1976, the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy in what is now the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Although he formally retired in 1986, Harvey continued to participate in seminars and other events around the Belfer Center until a few weeks before his death. When I last visited him, very shortly before he passed away, he was still thinking and talking about that crucial and fascinating intersection of science and technology with policy, about where and how things were going badly in the world, and about how we could do better.
John P. Holdren is the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy and the third director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy.
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