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Chu Is Bringing Science Back

Major news outlets have been reporting since yesterday afternoon that Steven Chu is President-elect Obama’s choice to head the Department of Energy. Chu currently directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he has led a drive to develop clean and renewable sources of energy to combat global climate change. He shared the 1997 Nobel prize in physics for work using lasers to stop atoms in their tracks. If confirmed, he would be the first Nobel laureate in the cabinet to go into the job with a medal in hand (the WSJ Washington Wire points out that Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize just after becoming secretary of state).

Steven ChuChu’s appointment—along with news that Carol Browner will get the nod to head the new National Energy Council and Lisa Jaskson will be nominated for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency—sends a clear signal about Obama’s commitment to progressive energy and climate policy. But it’s also a clear return to a policymaking approach based on attention to scientific evidence, something readers hardly need to be reminded was far from what the Bush administration has been up to for the past eight years. (The Philadelphia Inquirer has a bruising indictment of Stephen Johnson’s tenure at the EPA. Johnson originally drew accolades as the first scientist to head the agency.) The potential of having a Nobel-winning scientist high in the executive branch is nothing short of energizing for the research community. Here’s some of the reaction in published reports:

“Steve Chu is a world-class intellectual…When I heard that name (for energy secretary), I smiled.”
Steve Schneider, Stanford University environmental scientist

“When he was first here, he started giving talks about energy and production of energy… He didn’t just present a problem. He told us what we could do. It was an energizing thing to see. He’s not a manager, he’s a leader.”
Bob Jacobsen, senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley lab and UC Berkeley physics professor

“He has been relentless about addressing the technical challenges of renewable energy in a deep way.”
Robert J. Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley

“[President-elect Obama] certainly needs somebody who can focus on the science and energy policies and I can’t think of a better guy than Steve.”
Mike Lubell, physics professor at the City College of New York

“It’s a great sign to see a scientist named as head of this very important department, because it sends a signal that the issues of climate change and energy go well beyond ideology.”
Keya Chatterjee, World Wildlife Fund

“After the anti-science Bush administration, this is like going to a Mensa meeting after eight years of being trapped in the Flat Earth Society.”
Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress

Here’s to Dr. Chu and the rest of the next administration’s energy team bringing science back.

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