In July 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order to establish the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Science Advisory Board (SAB), a body set up to address scientific problems of the various government departments. The SAB’s first task was to survey the overall relationship between science and the government. After this and other initial successes, Roosevelt issued another executive order in 1934 to broaden the SAB’s membership.
By 1935, problems with the SAB’s makeup became apparent. Because the board was, in effect, appointed by the president, concerns arose that it was too vulnerable to political control. In addition, the SAB’s anomalous position as a government-appointed group within the NRC created jurisdictional problems with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The SAB was allowed to expire at the end of its initial charter in late 1935, and its functions were assumed by a more broadly representative NAS Committee on Government Relations. This committee had limited influence and was eventually dissolved in October 1939. Although the SAB was relatively short-lived, it did set the pattern for subsequent large-scale NAS-NRC efforts in providing policy advice.
Our photograph shows the first meeting of the SAB, held in late August 1933. Seated from left to right are Isaiah Bowman, SAB Chairman Karl T. Compton, W.W. Campbell, and John C. Merriam. Standing are Robert A. Millikan, C.K. Leith, and future NAS President Frank B. Jewett.