The launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union on Oct. 4, 1957, sent shock waves through the United States, not the least of which was a fear of being overshadowed in science and technology. Physicists rose to the Cold War challenge. In 1960, a small group of them formed an independent organization, known as the Jasons, to help the U.S. government solve its most vexing technological problems. For more than six decades, the Jasons have labored every summer to tackle mind-bending challenges. Now, their future is in doubt.
On March 28, the Defense Department notified the MITRE Corp. that an expiring five-year contract for the Jasons would not be renewed because the “requirement has changed.” Only one study, on electronic warfare, is to be completed.
If not reversed, the decision could effectively end a long and fruitful collaboration of the best and brightest scientists with the U.S. government. The candid advice of the Jasons, widely respected, has not always led to easy choices for policymakers, grappling with limited resources and political interests. The word of the Jasons may not be sitting well with an ideological administration like this one, so often at odds with scientists on climate change and other topics.
According to Nature, there are currently about 40 members of the Jasons, stellar academics with top-secret clearances, who spend the summer at La Jolla, Calif., working on 12 to 15 studies a year at a cost of $7 million to $8 million, including for the military, the intelligence agencies and the departments of Energy and Homeland Security.
Today’s technology enigmas are no less daunting than those of the 1960s: climate change, antibiotic resistance, cybersecurity, genetic engineering, privacy and more. It is wrongheaded to jettison a brain trust like the Jasons.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST