Monday, March 09, 2009

The science president

By Michael J.W. Stickings

WaPo:

When President Obama lifts restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research today, he will also issue a presidential memorandum aimed at insulating scientific decisions across the federal government from political influence, officials said yesterday.

"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.

Although officials would not go into details, the memorandum will order the Office of Science and Technology Policy to "assure a number of effective standards and practices that will help our society feel that we have the highest-quality individuals carrying out scientific jobs and that information is shared with the public," said Harold Varmus, who co-chairs Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

I really can't say enough about this. Is this not one of the reasons so many people supported Obama in the first place? That he would not just return science to its rightful place but that he would restore reality to public policy? (Of course, Hillary would have, too, don't get me wrong.)

There are good reasons to be critical of some of what Obama has done so far, including his continuation of some of the more reprehensible elements of the Bush presidency, not least the secretive, unitary executive with respect to the war on terror, where Obama has been far too much like Bush so far. As Glenn Greenwald asked recently, "Is Obama embracing the lawless, omnipotent executive?" Alas, yes -- Obama isn't Cheney, but it's too close for comfort. (For more on this, see Dahlia Lithwick's piece from Friday, "Obama, Bush Secret-Keeper.")

When it comes to science, though, Obama has taken a 180-degree turn away from Bush's theocratic suppression of the truth.

America, modernity's great political experiment, has emerged from the Dark Ages. There is still a lot to do -- and undo -- but both the present and the future are brighter with Obama in the Oval Office.

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