John Holdren is confirmed as the next Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
Barack Obama is serious about science and technology. It was clear in the campaign; clear in the President-Elect’s policies, and doubly clear in the speed with which he has established scientific leadership for the incoming administration.
Today’s official announcement that John Holdren is being appointed Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (which in addition to re-establishing a cabinet-level S&T asvisor, includes Hodren being 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), puts the finishing touches to what many would consider a “dream team” for leading science and technology that serves society.
But just as important as the team is the philosophy behind it. In today’s address (which as usual is viewable on YouTube), Obama emphasized clearly the importance of science and technology in tackling national and global challenges:
“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.”
But he also was also clear on the importance of science and evidence-based decision-making in society:
“The truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry,” President-elect Obama said. “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 profoundly important position to take as the US squares up to take on some of the biggest challenges ever faced by humanity. High on the list are hunger, disease, access to clean water, energy, security, and climate change. And these are being driven by a growing global population, increasing quality of life expectations, and a closer-than-ever coupling between human actions and global responses.
Science and technology are only part of the solution to these issues—but it is near impossible to imagine how progress can be made without the generation of new knowledge, and its innovative application in making people’s lives better.
The challenge for Holdren and the rest of Obama’s science and technology team will be to make-good on the new administration’s aims; through providing advice, crafting policies and taking action that will lead to science-led solutions to these and other issues.
The good news is that the incoming team members seem to have what it takes. Jonathan Moreno, editor-in-chief of Science Progress, has described them as “surely the most distinguished group of scientists at the highest levels of government in decades.”
Of course, this is just the beginning—it’s yet to be seen how this “dream team” will work together and help ensure science and technology are used to the full, while avoiding the problems that poorly-conceived scitech innovation can sometimes throw up.
But for now, the future is looking pretty bright for science and technology.