Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Change and Progress
When we had our panel discussion following the screening of The Atom Smashers at the Museum of Science and Industry, John Conway talked about the cautious optimism they were feeling about Barack Obama. So far, I can only imagine John and others are pinching themselves to make sure they're not dreaming. First of all, he has answered lots and lots of science questions, and many of them substantially. "This is the first time we know of that a candidate for president has laid out his science policy before the election at this level of detail," says Shawn Otto, CEO of ScienceDebate2008, as quoted in this Wired article. Otto goes on to say that he "thought they were very substantive for this point in the campaign, and surprisingly detailed."
And John mentioned one thing in particular: Obama clearly stated that his administration "will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade."
Doubling is good!
But just as important as many of those detailed answers about policy, and perhaps moreso, are some statements that indicate the huge ideological shift that will take place. Consider the fact that he believes the restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research "have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations."
And this: "I will restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees."
And this, said just yesterday: "my administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action."
When did he say this? During the announcement that he was appointing Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, as the Secretary of Energy. And, yes, the Department of Energy is the funding agency for ... Fermilab. And Fermilab is happy... here's what Pierre Odonne, head of Fermilab (and someone we interviewed twice) has to say about it:
President-elect Obama’s nomination of Steve Chu to head the Department of Energy is an exciting prospect for us within the community of DOE national laboratories. For the first time in the history of the DOE, a distinguished physicist has been nominated to take the helm. Steve Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics and is currently the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is passionate about science. Even while serving as laboratory director he has kept a very active research program with students and post-docs, inquiring into fundamental processes in cell biology using new molecular and atomic techniques. One has to go back 50 years to the DOE’s grandparent agency, the Atomic Energy Commission and the leadership of Glenn Seaborg to find a scientist of such distinction at the helm.
Talk about change and progress!