The leaders of the nation's largest scientific society today sharply criticized the Reagan administration for failing to name a permanent White House science adviser since the post became vacant last December.
The officials of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said the White House soon will face a number of major science and technology decisions but has no mechanism to ensure that the president and his staff get sound, independent scientific advice.
Perhaps the most immediate scientific issue facing the nation, the leaders said, is how best to revive the space program. This involves such questions as whether to build a new shuttle orbiter, which is based on 1970s technology; to press on with the "transatmospheric vehicle," a new kind of space plane; or to rely more on automated, unmanned rockets.
Other high-priority questions include whether and how to proceed with the president's "Star Wars" missile defense program and how fast to build the next generation of costly atom smashers that physicists need to probe the ultimate nature of matter more deeply.
"I'm very worried," said William D. Carey, executive officer of the AAAS, which is holding its 152nd annual meeting here. "We've got all these pressing science policy questions coming up and no independent source of scientific advice in the White House. I think it says something about the way the White House values scientific input."
Until the end of last year, George A. Keyworth II was director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He quit to become a private consultant. His deputy, John P. McTague, was named acting director, but he quit last week to become head of research at Ford Motor Co. Richard G. Johnson, an assistant director in the office, has been named acting director.
Also joining the criticism was Lawrence Bogorad, a Harvard University biology professor and AAAS president-elect.
"It's really rather hard to see why the administration hasn't seen the need" for a permanent, high-level science adviser, Bogorad said, when both the scientific community and leaders of high-technology corporations have been urging an appointment.
David A. Hamburg, chairman of the AAAS board and president of the Carnegie Corp. of New York, said there have been several apparently futile attempts by leaders of science and industry to prod the White House into action.
Hamburg said the White House needs "a world-class scientist" who can command the help of a variety of top researchers outside government to give expert advice without being partial to any one government agency.
The science adviser, Hamburg said, is the only one who can give the White House the kind of overview it needs to "perform an independent evaluation job," resolving competing claims for funding and recommending decisions on national policies that have a scientific base.
Without such advice, Hamburg said, it is possible that the Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called Star Wars research program that many scientists feel is technically unsound, could grow within a few years to cost more than the government's budget for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, which funds non-military, non-medical research.