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Science Day at the White House

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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 9, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
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Finally. After an 8 year drought where science was subverted to appease the fundamentalist religious fanatics and corporate shills, America will emerge from its state of ignorance. Scientists all over the country, no the world, should be rejoicing at these changes, particularly in medical and environmental research, climate change, and endangered species protection. It's good to have rationality restored to the White House.

Posted by: lrowland | March 9, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

As usual and expected...the Republican insurgents are throwing garbage from their "fox holes"...Cantor said yesterday that this policy reversal was being done as a "distraction" from the economic'd think they'd welcome anything that would distract from the mess they created...and the bush policies that they supported...but NO...not this happy band of insurgents...

Posted by: constwkr | March 9, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

It's great to hear that science is back in the federal government. We may hope that at the same time a certain measure of nonsense will have to give way.

However when it comes to stem cell research, the outcome will not be immediate cures. It's helpful to take a good look at the pharm revolution that arrived about 60 years ago: from that day to this, most pharm products never pan out. They don't work, or they cause more harm than good, or they work no better than existing treatments. That's the harsh reality of pharm product development. There's no reason to believe stem cell technology will be any different. Be reasonable in your expectations and over time stem cell research will probably deliver some great stuff. But not tomorrow, not invariably, and not necessarily for your favorite disease.

Posted by: jpk1 | March 9, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

The President has a world of hurt to undo. The Republican Party has led our country into a wilderness of bankruptcies, mistaken wars, xenophobia, societal indifference to the suffering of people who have the poor taste to get ill, and theocracy. It will take a while for us to fight back to a country that is worth living in. I admire his clarity of vision, his political smarts, his calm, and his willingness to undertake this Herculean task.
We need to turn to and work like never before--or like our grandparents did in World War II--to fight our way out of this situation. It is indeed a war--to get our country back.

Posted by: etenglish | March 10, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

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