On Friday, Feb. 1, Dr. Steven Chu announced that he would not be continuing as U.S. Secretary of Energy for a second term under President Barack Obama. I don't normally follow how these things work, but from what I gather it normally involves a pro forma letter written announcing the intention not to serve a second term. Chu ended up writing a 3,781 word term paper discussing his successes and failures as Energy Secretary and also outlining his vision for where American energy policy needs to head.
If you're interested, you can either read the complete letter on the DoE website or a recap of the major points, but I'd like to focus on Chu's opening remarks, which emphasize the way scientific ideas are judged:
I've always been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, who articulated his Dream of an America where people are judged not by skin color but "by the content of their character." In the scientific world, people are judged by the content of their ideas. Advances are made with new insights, but the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherry picked to support a particular point of view. The power of our work is derived from this foundation.
I have worked each day to move the Department in a direction where the political leadership and highest levels of career managers have the intellectual curiosity and wisdom to learn from the people who reported to them and where the subject matter experts - which should include managers at the highest levels - as well as employees at our national laboratories welcome their counsel and help. I grew up and matured in organizations where a graduate student or staff scientist could have a discussion with a company department head, a professor, a national lab director and be heard, not because of their rank in the organization, but because of the quality of their ideas.
Though Chu has been under a lot of political criticism for his stance on climate change and his belief in embracing shifts to alternative energy - a stance that he defends throughout his letter - it is my hope that this vision of following good scientific ideas and listening to the subject matter experts will be one that continues to be embraced by the Department of Energy in the years to come.