Issue Date: November 30, 2009
Remembering The Office Of Technology Assessment
In his editorial "Bring Back OTA," Rudy Baum reports his whole-hearted agreement with a suggestion by Ralph Nader to reestablish the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), a low-cost advisory office of Congress (C&EN, Aug. 31, page 3). Like him, I have seldom agreed with Nader, but this time Nader is right, and his idea is excellent. The abolishment of OTA was an act of arrogance and willful ignorance, and it never should have happened.
I say this from personal experience with OTA, having served on the committee that produced an influential report in its time, "Assessment of Technologies for Determining Cancer Risks from the Environment" (OTA, June 1981, Washington, D.C.). The committee was ably chaired by a noted environmental medical scientist, Norton Nelson of New York University, and it was supported by Michael Gough of OTA. I was one of the members from industry; others were from the environmental movement, law, academia, medicine, and government agencies. And the committee sought advice from still others, as well.
I approached the committee with some trepidation, wondering how much politicking there might be instead of science. I was soon reassured because there was none. Although some members were opponents of others in other arenas, science and technology were the only considerations in all of the deliberations and in the final product. I came away with much new knowledge and with great respect for OTA and its reservoir of talent and knowledge. I also came away with a strong appreciation of its work in support of Congress in areas where a grasp of the meaning of science and technology was so important for lawmakers to do their jobs. I was deeply chagrined and angered when OTA was abolished, and I hope that Nader's idea will be put into practice.
Paul F. Deisler Jr.
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