By Dan Froomkin
11:59 AM ET, 03/ 9/2009
After eight years during which science took a back seat to politics, today is Science Day at the White House.
President Obama not only announced that he is lifting restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research, he promised to restore scientific integrity to government decision-making processes in general.
"Today, with the Executive Order I am about to sign," he said, "we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers; doctors and innovators; patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years: we will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research. We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield....
"[I]n recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent....
"The majority of Americans – from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs – have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided."
Obama said that promoting science "is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient – especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.
"By doing this, we will ensure America's continued global leadership in scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs. That is essential not only for our economic prosperity, but for the progress of all humanity.
"That is why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions."
And later in the day, Obama meets in the Oval Office with the super-bright high school seniors who have been named finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search.
Rob Stein writes in The Washington Post: "'The president believes that it's particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals,' Melody C. Barnes, director of Obama's Domestic Policy Council, told reporters during a telephone briefing yesterday."
Michel Specter, writing in the New Yorker in 2006, described how Bush administration officials consistently subverted science to further their political goals, how "many types of scientific analysis and research are proscribed almost wholly on religious grounds" and how Bush viewed science "more as a political constituency than as an intellectual discipline or a way of life."