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Obama to the rescue of scientific research … again

April 27, 2009

President Obama declared this morning that “science is more essential….than ever before” for the nation’s security, health, and economy. And the proof, he said, is the swine flu outbreak that has killed
more than 100 in Mexico and shown up in the United States, though with no fatalities yet.

Obama told the National Academy of Sciences that he is closely monitoring the outbreak, which he called a “cause for concern, but not a cause for alarm.” The president’s speech was a follow-up to his decision last month to reverse President Bush’s limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research — and an accompanying pledge to take the politics out of science.

He repeated that promise this morning — and also announced a pledge to increase research and scientific funding to a level equal to that during the space race to the moon, amounting to 3 percent of the gross domestic product.

In his speech, Obama also announced a new President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which will help “formulate policy in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people,” the White House said.

“This council represents leaders from many scientific disciplines who will bring a diversity of experience and views. I will charge PCAST with advising me about national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation,” Obama said.

The advisory council will be headed by John Holdren, whom Obama appointed as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“This PCAST is a group of exceptional caliber as well as diversity, covering a wide range of expertise and backgrounds across the relevant science, engineering and innovation fields and sectors. The President and I expect to make major use of this extraordinary group as we work to strengthen our country’s capabilities in science and technology and bring them more effectively to bear on the national challenges we face,” Holdren, who had been director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said in a statement.

The co-chairman of the council will be Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Professor of Biology at MIT, Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, and member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

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