In my youth I played about every sport then invented in my town; football, baseball, and basketball. My mother used to yell at me to quit playing ball and practice my piano lesson but it didn’t do any good, so I didn’t become a Paderewski but I didn’t become Bob Feller either. I did play basketball (not football) with the Kansas City Chiefs that scored the first AFL touchdown in the first super bowl game - Curtis McClinton. Curtis surely forgot me before the night was over, but this jock wanna-be never forgot him and the experience. The story of how this happened is too long to tell, But therein lies the value of all of that sport. When I was becoming a chemist in graduate school, intramurals helped sweat the tension away.
So what’s this got to do with anything?
Well, the world has just seen the bureaucracy get to one of the most significant scientists to ever work for the US government - MIT Biologist Eric Lander. President Biden elevated the post of Science Advisor to a cabinet-level position and Lander took the job. It took about 1 year but the bureaucrats thought him nasty (he probably was) and not nice to the folks in the White House Office of Science and Technology. So they wrote letters to other short-termers in Washington - folks on congressional committees. And soon Mr. Nasty was forced to resign.
Lander’s work has been of great interest to me because my family has been heavily impacted by deaths from what has been said to be “incurable” diseases – my wife from complications of Parkinson’s disease and my brother from ALS. As I’ve written before, I firmly believe such diseases are “incurable” only because we haven’t spent enough time and money studying them. So I thought, with the Lander appointment, the US might start to see a move away from the overwhelming support for the military that had dominated our budget processes since World War II. Just maybe, thought I, Lander might be one to stand up the generals on their turf and rest a few measly $billions away from submarines to solving rare, incurable diseases. I wanted Mr. Nasty to stand up to those that make their living being nasty - the generals - and wrest a few shekels for my projects from the spillover in their submarine budgets.
But alas it was not to be. Nasty lost - the pasties in the corner won.
So let me go back to sports. Another dream I had as a boy might have been to be the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Now admittedly there were folks occupying said spot - Bart Start, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers to speak of the three winners - plus a few Zekes and Matts and Frans on the bench. And also, admittedly, when I was a boy the Green Bay Packers were barely known. But no matter, it could have been a dream anyway,
Now suppose the football powers that be had decided who was to be quarterback depended on the same things that appear to have been applied to my hero Lander? Nice guys first; those that wanna be second; girls - sure - isn’t there a title IX in sports?
Ridiculous right? The Green Bay Packers would never have had a winning season if their quarterbacks were chosen for any reason other than their ability to play football; quarterback.
So why is it that sports can get the competition for positions right, but the US government cannot? For that matter doesn’t the same apply to positions in our universities? Do we always get the best person for the job or do we often take a middle-of-the-road position and accept the mediocre for reasons of race, gender, or creed? I doubt one even knows Aaron Rodgers’ religion, and like all other quarterbacks in the NFL, he’s a male. Could there be a woman quarterback someday? I suppose. But only if that person could be the best and win the position based on her ability.
If a quarterback can be chosen on the basis of ability and ability only, then I submit a science advisor to the president of the United States who deserves the same ability only based scrutiny. All quarterbacks do is play football games. Scientists save lives.
Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash