Obama Chooses Science Team for Planetary Survival, Prosperity

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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Obama Chooses Science Team for Planetary Survival, Prosperity

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CHICAGO, Illinois, December 21, 2008 (ENS) - President-elect Barack Obama indicated Satuday that he will be making decisions "based on science and facts rather than on ideology" as he introduced the members of his science and technology team. "The truth is that promoting science isn't just about providing resources - it's about protecting free and open inquiry," Obama declared.

"It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology," Obama said in his weekly radio address. "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."

President-elect Obama announced his appointment of Dr. John Holdren as assistant to the president for science and technology, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST.

Obama announced Dr. Harold Varmus and Dr. Eric Lander as the other co-chairs of PCAST, which the President-elect said he hopes will be "a vigorous external advisory council that will shape my thinking on the scientific aspects of my policy priorities."

And Obama named Dr. Jane Lubchenco as his choice to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the Department of Commerce, which will be headed by the present New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

"I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery," Obama said," if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity."

"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 21st 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," said Obama.

A physicist known for his work on climate and energy, Dr. Holdren will serve as assistant to the president for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. A professor and director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he is also presently president and director of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts.

Dr. Holdren's work has focused on causes and consequences of global environmental change, analysis of energy technologies and policies, ways to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons and materials, and the interaction of content and process in science and technology policy.

Obama called him "one of the most passionate and persistent voices of our time about the growing threat of climate change."

As president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007, Dr. Holdren said at the association's annual meeting, "Climate change is not a problem for our children and our grandchildren - it is a problem for us. It's already causing harm."

When asked about the policies of the Bush administration, he said, "We have seen some tendencies toward fact-averse governance. Meanwhile, the federal government has moved to reduce funding for climate change research in the past four years."

Holdren cited some projections warning that by 2100 "global temperatures could rival those of the Eocene epoch some 35 million years ago, a time of dramatic global warming that caused dramatic disruptions - waves of extinction - in Earth's ecosystem."

In Dr. Varmus, Obama has added another Nobel Laureate to his science team in addition to Dr. Steven Chu, who will head the Department of Energy.

Dr. Varmus was co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of "the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes," a factor in the growth of cancerous tumors. From 1993 to 1999, he served as director of the National Institutes of Health, where he was credited with nearly doubling the research agency's budget. Since January 2000, he has served as president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

A biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Lander is the founding director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard for the study of medical genetics and was one of the driving forces behind mapping the human genome, which Obama called "one of the greatest scientific achievements in history."

An Oregon State University zoology professor, Dr. Lubchenco is an internationally known environmental scientist and marine ecologist and a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her research interests include biodiversity, climate change, sustainability science and the state of the oceans.

A member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Academy, in 2002, Dr. Lubchenco received the Heinz Award in the Environment and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 2003.

Her appointment as head of NOAA drew praise from across the country.

Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said, "This is a great day for the future of the oceans."

Calling Lubchenco "an extraordinary scientist who brings great creativity and innovation to addressing the grave threats facing our oceans today," Packard said, "She knows the magnitude of the threats and for decades has demonstrated national leadership in addressing these challenges."

"Today, pollution, overfishing and global warming are taking a huge toll on marine life," said Packard. "It's happening along our coasts, and around the world. Without swift and effective action, we risk causing irreparable damage to ecosystems on which all life depends."

"She is a world-class scientist who understands that urgent action is needed to reverse the decline in the health and productivity of our oceans," Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

In announcing his selections, President-elect Obama said, "Right now, in labs, classrooms and companies across America, our leading minds are hard at work chasing the next big idea, on the cusp of breakthroughs that could revolutionize our lives. But history tells us that they cannot do it alone."

From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way," said Obama, leaders like President [John F.] Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process."

{Photo: Dr. John Holdren, immediate past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will serve as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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