Many scientists have been actively supporting Obama. This support stems, in part, from a feeling that any change from the past eight years can only be an improvement. But there has also been a belief that Obama fundamentally understands how science works. That he appreciates its relevance to the key issues of the day. And that he will actively solicit input from the scientific community, and that this input will appropriately inform his decisions. All of this has been primarily hypothetical, based mostly on somewhat vague statements and sound bites. Today Obama gave his weekly radio/YouTube address, and it was exclusively devoted to science and technology. In addition to Steve Chu and John Holdren, he has now added Harold Varmus and Eric Lander as co-chairs of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He has assembled a scientific dream team, including two Nobel Laureates, and a host of eminent scientists with public-policy experience. A President is not expected to master the scientific issues at stake. A President's effectiveness depends solely and crucially on their choice of appointments. These appointments are thus the first and most important scientific decision Obama will make, and he has done an extraordinary job. Of course, the next most important aspect will be whether or not Obama listens to their advice. This will be an extremely difficult group to ignore. In his weekly address Obama announces the appointments, but then articulates his concerns:
Whether it’s the science to slow global warming; the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction; the research to find life-saving cures; or the innovations to remake our industries and create twenty-first century jobs—today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. ... Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.
This is a wonderful holiday gift to the scientific community. We no longer have to hope that Obama will do the right thing. We now know he is doing the right thing.