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April 30, 2012 

Scientist Lewis M. Branscomb Gives $1 Million Gift to Found New Center for Science and Democracy at UCS

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (April 30, 2012)—The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) announced today that it has received a $1 million gift from Lewis M. Branscomb, a prominent physicist and intellectual leader on science and policymaking. The gift will help launch a new Center for Science and Democracy at UCS that will work toward restoring the essential role science, evidence-based knowledge and constructive debate play in the U.S. policymaking process.

Branscomb’s gift comes as scientists have become increasingly worried about how policymakers and members of the public view science, as well as the quality of public dialogue about the benefits of science and technology to the public and democratic governance. The Center’s activities will work to bring together scientists, policymakers and other constituencies to address these issues.

A cornerstone of the Center for Science and Democracy will be the Lewis M. Branscomb Science and Democracy Forum. The forum series will bring experts, decision makers, and the public together to tackle key issues at the intersection of science and democracy, including special interests’ influence on science used in government decision making.

UCS President Kevin Knobloch said that naming the forum after Branscomb honors his intellectual and financial contributions to the enterprise. “Dr. Branscomb’s longstanding leadership and concern for the vital role of science in American democracy is well known,” he said. “His vision has been essential to the development of the center. This gift will allow us to build on his tireless work in advancing the role of science in the American experiment.”

“Science has been the absolute bedrock of technological and economic progress in the United States,” Branscomb added. “In making this gift, it is my hope that fact-based policies will more often guide political decisions. We need to take a hard look at where our national public policy debates are falling short when it comes to respecting the unique role science plays in society. And we can do a better job as scientists in helping people see where our research fits into those debates.”

Branscomb hopes his gift will spur others to make similar commitments.

UCS will formally launch its Center for Science and Democracy with two launch events. The first, on the East Coast, will take place in Somerville, Massachusetts on May 17. The second, for the West Coast, will take place on June 13 in La Jolla, California.

Branscomb is the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management (emeritus) in Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and was the director of that school's Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program. He now serves as Adjunct Professor at the University of California San Diego and Distinguished Research Fellow at the University of California’s Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation. He served on President Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee and President Nixon appointed him Director of what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Presidents Carter and Reagan also appointed him to public service positions.

Branscomb is a past chairman of the National Science Board, a former president of the American Physical Society, and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Public Administration. He currently holds three pro bono appointments at the University of California at San Diego and holds honorary doctorates from fifteen universities.

Branscomb pioneered the study of atomic and molecular negative ions, using absorption spectroscopy in crossed beams of ions and light. In addition to his public service science, Branscomb served as vice president and chief scientist at IBM Corporation from 1972 to 1986.

He currently focuses on domestic and international research and innovation policy and on the management of science and technology in the furtherance of democratic governance, economic equity, and safety and security. Branscomb was co-founder of JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics), a project of the University of Colorado and NIST, which engages in research across many fields, including atomic physics and chemistry and related topics in astrophysics. His online biography offers a fuller view of his achievements and service.

Branscomb originally became involved with UCS in the early 2000s, after scientists became aware of several high-profile instances of political interference in federal science. Branscomb was one of 62 eminent scientists who first wrote a letter -- ultimately signed by thousands of their colleagues – calling for the restoration of scientific integrity to federal policymaking. Their work galvanized the scientific community and planted the seeds for UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program, which continues to expose political interference in science and protect the scientists and science that inform federal decisions.


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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