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Clinton Vows to End 'Assault on Science'

Condemning the Bush administration for waging a "war on science," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton drew on her childhood fascination with outer space as she promised to renew focus on research and scientific progress if elected president. She vowed to roll back limits on stem cell research and promote career scientists rather than ideologues.

"When I am president, scientific integrity will not be the exception, it will be the rule," she said.

In her speech, delivered at the Carnegie Institution for Science here on Thursday morning, Clinton told several stories about her own exposure to science as a child. The event was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet explorer satellite that triggered a Cold War race to dominate space travel and prompted then President Dwight Eisenhower to encourage scientific study.

"I remember as though it were yesterday when my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Kraus came into our classroom and told us we had to study math and science because the president said so," Clinton said. "I was convinced President Eisenhower had called up Mrs. Kraus and told her, 'You tell those children, and particularly that Hillary, who doesn't really like math that much, that her country needs her.'"

Clinton - sometimes known to lapse into dry technical passages when addressing crowds of professionals - seemed determined to sound accessible. She paraphrased Stephen Colbert, the Comedy Central anchor, in describing what she said is President Bush's approach to science: "This administration doesn't make decisions on facts, it makes facts based on decisions." The crowd laughed.

To inspire more students to pursue science, she suggested a fictional television show along the lines of CSI, which led to a surge of interest in forensics. "Make up a character," she told the scientists in the audience.

She described her father's purchase, in 1957, of a pair of binoculars - to try to look for Sputnik, she said. And she recounted her own interest in space travel.

"This is personal for me because when I was in junior high school, I was just captivated by the space program. It caught my imagination. There was such a great burst of interest. I did my 8th grade science project on space medicine. Some of you know that I even wrote to NASA asking how I could apply to be an astronaut and got back an answer saying that they weren't taking women," she said, drawing laughter. She added: "I have lived long enough to see that change."

Large applause followed her promise to "end this assault on science" - she ticked off allegations the Bush administration had dismissed scientific inquiry among civil servants - and to appoint a White House adviser on science who would report directly to her as president. But the Republican party quickly pounced on her remarks, accusing her of warped accounting in her own campaign promises. "Hillary Clinton says she will bring integrity to science, but on the campaign travel she manipulates basic mathematics in her attempts to explain how she will pay for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending," Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz said in a statement after her speech.

--Anne E. Kornblut

By Washington Post editors  |  October 4, 2007; 4:40 PM ET
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