John Holdren – Obama’s new science advisor?

by Andrew Maynard on December 18, 2008

Reports are coming in that Professor John Holdren – director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School, University of Harvard – is Barack Obama’s pick for science advisor, and head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

From ScienceDirect:

Strong indications are that President-elect Barack Obama has picked physicist John Holdren to be the president’s science adviser.

A top adviser to the Obama campaign and international expert on energy and climate, Holdren would bolster Obama’s team in those areas. Both are crowded portfolios. Obama has already created a new position to coordinate energy issues in the White House staffed by well-connected Carol Browner, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and nominated a Nobel-prize winning physicist, Steve Chu, to head the Department of Energy. That could complicate how the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which Holdren will run, will manage energy and environmental policy.

And from the Washington Post:

President-elect Obama will announce this weekend that he has selected physicist John Holdren, who has devoted much of his career to energy and environmental research, as his White House science adviser, according to a published report today.

The Obama transition office would not confirm Holdren’s selection. Last night, asked by The Post to comment on the science adviser search, Holdren responded by e-mail that he would be unable to comment because of his work with the Obama transition team.

Maintaining a longstanding tradition for presidential science advisors, Holdren is a physicist by training.  But his forte is the intersection between science, the environment and society – making him an exciting addition to the science and technology-based team Obama is rapidly assembling.

Update, Dec 20:

In his weekly address, President-Elect Obama has just confirmed the appointment of 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 (PCAST).  He has also confirmed that Harold Varmus and Dr. Eric Lander will be the other co-chairs of PCAST.

From the address (viewable on YouTube here):

“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. It is time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America’s place as the world leader in science and technology.

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: leaders like President 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.

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.”

Update Dec 21:  Holdren confirmed as next Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

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