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Seven for Science: Now that’s Science Progress!

Recent Appointments Are a New Beginning

press conference announcing energy and environment team SOURCE: AP The seven science advisers Barack Obama has chosen are surely the most distinguished group of scientists at the highest levels of government in decades. Above: At the press conference announcing nominees for the new administration's energy and environment team.

President-elect Barack Obama has sent a strong signal that should cheer all Americans this holiday season as together we face a tough set of challenges: Though science can’t solve our problems, neither can we solve them without science.

Taken together, the seven science advisers he has so far appointed are surely the most distinguished group of scientists at the highest levels of government in decades. They would make the founders of our republic—the most technology-oriented pantheon of revolutionaries in history—proud.

Steven Chu is the first Nobel laureate in science nominated for a cabinet position, Secretary of Energy. Chu has the ability to recognize good science and, just as important, sees our energy and environmental problems within a larger framework of the innovation economy. To coordinate energy and climate policy in the White House Obama has selected former Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner. Former New Jersey environmental commissioner Lisa Jackson will run EPA. And L.A. deputy mayor Nancy Sutley will direct the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

All these impressive credentials are a beginning, not an end. But at the very least they say to the American people that respect for evidence will once again have a central role in government science policy.

As the Passover ritual says, if this is all the president-elect had done for science and our country that would have been sufficient. But he is also expected to name the highly respected Harvard University physicist and climate expert John Holdren as his White House science adviser. Holdren, a former board chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is a vigorous supporter of efforts to put innovation back on our national agenda, as it is crucial to all aspects of our national security and prosperity.

Obama will apparently also name Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lubchenco, also much admired in the scientific community, is a member of both the National Academy of Science and the British Royal Academy.

Again, all these impressive credentials are a beginning, not an end. But at the very least they say to the American people that respect for evidence will once again have a central role in government science policy. The role of regulatory agencies—to create a level playing field of safety and opportunity—will be restored to its proper place in government, in the context of a public policy that builds the cleaner, green economy that must be the foundation of the new American prosperity.

Especially striking is the turn away from the tiresome, divisive and dispiriting culture wars that so politicized science—a sorry trademark of the past eight years. Americans can now look forward with pleasure to further smart appointments, including new leadership for the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

At Science Progress we are committed to the proposition that sound public policy requires taking evidence seriously. If democracy is to thrive, we must find new and better ways to integrate the spirit of open inquiry into our policy process. That’s why we cover the latest research and discussions shaping science policy and develop pragmatic proposals that promote science and innovation that ensures greater freedom, justice, and quality of life for all people. We celebrate the new appreciation for the contributions of science to policy and to shaping a better world.

Yet the outgoing Bush administration has left us with a parting shot: a midnight regulation that could clear the way for new coal-fired plants not restrained by greenhouse-gas rules. Just one week ago today I experienced the “sunniest” day of a stay in Beijing. That was a bright, noxious haze in which I could roughly make out the rim of the sun. The seven for science named so far can’t alone protect us from the future we can read in the Beijing sky, but they can help show us the way.

Jonathan D. Moreno, Ph.D., is the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor of Ethics and Professor of Medical Ethics and of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Editor-in-Chief of Science Progress.

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