AAAS Tribute to Congressman George Brown
Washington, D. C.
September 27, 1999
For over four decades, George Brown focused on areas where science and government joined forces in the service of society - from Congressional Committee rooms, to U.S. lab benches, to living rooms across America. Through it all, George came to understand, perhaps better than any other member of Congress -- indeed, he believed it in his bones -- that technology and enlightened government could transform the world to the betterment of all.
With the eyes of the scientist - a title he proudly claimed, but with characteristic modesty -- and with the determination of a gifted politician - a profession he joyfully embraced -- he carved out responsible Federal stewardship policies for R&D. He ensured that America's world-leading science, space and technology enterprise was sustained and nurtured through thick and thin.
Few people have spoken more wisely with regard to the larger issues of science and technology in our national life. The Nation has lost one of its most important statesmen for science and civil rights, and, most importantly to me on a personal level, we have lost a dear and true friend.
Many of today's speakers will remind us of George's profound impact on the domestic front. I want to emphasize his equally remarkable contributions to science around the world.
Blessed with a sharp mind and a compassionate heart, George Brown viewed
science and technology as a means to address the imbalance of wealth and
power in the world - potential sources of international conflict.
Even our most bitter Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, was not off-limits to George's overtures of scientific and policy sharing. During the welcome glasnost period, George achieved unprecedented access to leading Soviet policy thinkers, participating in the television news series "Capital to Capital," which featured live, unedited discussions between Members of Congress and Members of the Supreme Soviet.
George also raised his strong voice against unreasonable security classifications, believing that sharing information was the best way to reduce conflicts that might be inadvertently ignited through ignorance. We are in need of that wisdom today. In arguing for the Open Skies program that opened up restrictions on civilian space remote-sensing, he noted that, "…the excessive and unnecessary system of secrecy which surrounds this program will fall of its own weight in the near future; and when it does, I will be accused of the crime of being prematurely right, a very serious crime indeed for a Member of Congress. It has ended many political careers." But far from ending George Brown's career, it served only to enhance it!
As the Soviet Union began its steady slide into disintegration, George wisely counseled the West to reach out to the one-quarter of the world's great scientists who lived in former Soviet Union. He advocated preserving the world-class scientific facilities in the former Soviet Union. He knew that encouraging cooperation and shared understanding was the surest way to help our former adversaries establish a more open, democratic society, and he campaigned actively for such programs to foster greater and greater collaboration.
In recent years, George made great progress in strengthening our scientific cooperation with Mexico, and he was just getting started with Cuba. He reminded us that scientists at universities and leading research centers had suffered ideological purges under brutal dictatorships in earlier decades, and he saw an opportunity to use scientific exchanges as a means of restoring traditions of free inquiry, free thought, free association, and free speech.
George was a giant of a man - a powerful presence on Capitol Hill. His absence has left an aching void. But we are reminded of three themes that emerge throughout George's career -
the power of science and technology to make ours a better future;
the absolute imperative to be wise stewards of our national resources and our biological riches;
and the inevitable consequences of misusing our newest technologies without respecting our oldest values in a rush to push the world beyond its capacity to sustain life.
Those who follow in his large footsteps will long remember his richly earned legacy. The result of his remarkable life is a better understanding of our world, a greater sense of confidence in ourselves, and a renewed sense of optimism in our collective future.
Godspeed, George Brown!
Office of Science
and Technology Policy
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W
Washington, DC 20502