The First International Conference On Future Energy

Official Washington almost experienced a "breath of fresh air" recently. But, it is sad to say that "hot air" espoused by government officials prevented this from happening. The source of the "fresh air" was an innovative conference, entitled the "First International Conference on Future Energy" (COFE). In this conference, scientists and potential investors from around the world gathered to explore non-mainstream ideas for producing energy. The "hot air" that prevented this from occurring at a location where government officials could become involved came from individuals who felt that the topics that were being covered either were too controversial, down-right wrong, or too embarrassing to be aired in governrnent owned facilities. As a result, a small group of government officials effectively barred the discussion of fresh ideas and innovative strategies for combating World Wide energy problems from a milieu conducive for involvement by Official Washington. Instead, these ideas and strategies were discussed at a location (Bethesda) that was considerably less conducive for participation by government officials.

Beyond the fact that the intervention by government officials almost resulted in cancellation of the conference, the actions of the government in this context impede the exchange of information that could be of value to all Americans. In a broader context, the intervention had a chilling, stifling effect on the academic freedom of scientists, potential investors, and government officials to explore controversial, but potentially innovative areas of research.

It is plausible that the small group of government officials who were involved in this disruption were seriously concerned that by allowing the conference to take place, they might be viewed as condoning a wasteful use of government resources. In particular, concerns by this group may have resulted because it was initially agreed that the conference would take place in buildings that are managed by the Department of State. Subsequently, however, the conference was scheduled to take place in buildings that are managed by the Department of Commerce. In point of fact, such a forum would have been quite appropriate since major ~rsts of the conference were related to commerce, patents, and investment.

In fact, even the idea that there was an "appearance" of impropriety is misguided. In particular, if any of the ideas proposed at the conference may someday turn out to be flawed, this is the way innovative science is supposed to function. Anyone who does not appreciate this fact does not understand the way science works: scientists seek the truth; when they recognize mistakes, they modify their approaches and their theories and move on. In the future, we would hope that the responsible government officials will adopt a similar strategy.