E = MC2may be the best-known principle of physics, but close behind is the rule that physicists must, like Albert Einstein, have a mustache -- and Richard A. Muller is no exception.
Richard A. Muller.
Facial hair earns no mention in his new book, Physics for Future Presidents, but it's an illuminating read nonetheless. In it, Muller argues persuasively that science, and physics in particular, must return to the White House. The UC-Berkeley professor, whose physics class for non-majors was recently voted the best course at the university, says many challenges facing the country -- like how to confront global warming and improve energy efficiency-- are, at heart, scientific issues. The problem, he says, is that objective, nonpartisan science hasn't had a place in the Oval Office for some time. "It was different under Kennedy," Muller says. "Glenn Seaborg, the great scientist from Berkeley, and John Kennedy were on a first-name basis. ... The president really knew what was going on, what was possible in science and engineering. We have to bring that back." In the current race for president, scientific issues have not been front and center, but John McCain and Barack Obama have both answered a set of questions about how they would address a number of science-related issues. Grist caught up with Muller by phone to discuss the presidential race and his new book.