Obama on Science

Barack Obama has a daunting task in repairing eight years of Bush neglect of science and technology. But will there be enough money?

The other day, a friend told me how his 13-year-old son had told him about a program on Barack Obama's website that could be downloaded into an iPhone. The software automatically flagged people living in swing states in the phone's address book.

"That way you can ask them to vote for Obama," said the 13-year-old.

Obama's internet savvy was critical to his victory in yesterday's presidential election, netting him untold millions in campaign contributions, and mobilizing armies of supporters-including those who are too young to vote.

It also demonstrates an ease with and a refreshingly creative embrace of technology and science that is strikingly dissimilar to the policies and actions of President Bush.

Bush's neglect of-and, at times, hostility toward-science and technology has been hugely destructive on issues ranging from restrictions on funding for stem cell research to failing to rein in green house gases.

Basic infrastructure in transportation, energy, and many other areas that depend on proper funding and keeping up with new technologies have also suffered from neglect and meager budgets.

Far worse has been the administration's systematic disregard for facts when they did not agree with policies and beliefs.

These include claims that humans do not cause global warming, a stance that the president has only recently amended-and attempts to alter scientific studies and expert opinions that ran counter to his ideology. At one point, federal agency websites included a spurious claim that abortions can cause breast cancer.

In contrast, Obama has plans for aggressively moving forward with science and technology as an engine for growth in America. To him it is a means to put people to work, improve and repair the nation's battered infrastructure, and fund ideas that might trigger more breakthroughs like those that have been a central part of American culture for over a century.

For a civilization based on science and technology, it may be the only way out of crucial dilemmas such as global warming, declining oil supplies, and the continuing scourge of disease.

"We need a war on cancer and against global warming, not a war on science," said Tom Kalil, a former science and technology advisor to President Bill Clinton who was Hilary Clinton's science adviser during the primary campaign.

During the campaign, Obama talked about launching an initiative to create renewable sources of energy akin to the Apollo space program in the 1960s that put men on the moon.

Among other things, he said he wants to double the budgets of the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, and other federal research and development agencies in the next 10 years.

The president elect wants to boost science education and to restore U.S. leadership in science and technology in the world,

Obama wants to fund reforms at the Food and Drug Administration, and to better integrate the F.D.A. with the Centers for Disease Control, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and other key health and regulatory agencies.

Other key promises:

  • The new Administration will increase federal investment in the clean energy research, development and deployment to $150 billion over 10 years.
  • The U.S. government will commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.
  • President Obama will lift the federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research imposed by President Bush.


In the days leading up to the election, 76 Nobel laureates endorsed Obama, representing a scientific establishment that has felt underappreciated, to say the least, for the last eight years.

The excitement with the new president's promises among scientists and technophiles is palpable, though there is a huge potential brake looming with the financial crisis and a national debt in the trillions of dollars.

It will take extraordinary leadership and political skill to find the resources to fulfill even a modest version of these promises.

Whether this comparative newcomer to national politics is up to it remains a huge question-though I know one person who is sure he will get it right.

That's my own 13-year-old son, who wants to be a scientist-and can't wait to vote in the presidential election of 2016.

 

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