How Science Got Its Groove Back

March 9th, 2009

Today’s declaration by President Obama makes me very happy. Not only did he reverse the Bush administration’s limits on federal funding for stem cell research, but he made the statement that science is valuable.

“This [Stem Cell] Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let’s be clear: promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it 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. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals — to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.”

Today marks a very public and official change for the relationship between science and politics in the United States government. This makes me very, very happy.


9 Responses to “How Science Got Its Groove Back”

  1. thevoice@voicedup.com on March 9, 2009 7:06 pm

    Finally, after almost a decade of limiting taxpayer money for research president Barrack Obama has lifted the restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research today.

    Let’s think of how many Americans are suffering from ailments and what this research can do for them. I’m sure everyone reading this knows someone important to them that is affected by one of these maladies.

  2. Joe on March 9, 2009 11:38 pm

    I was really happy to see this too. Trying to free science from perceived influences of politics or ideology will be a very difficult task though. A lot of the big topics have been politicized thoroughly already and you can’t just take a step back. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that scientists (oh which I am one, or was I guess) are perceived to be dependent on their results for their money.

    With climate change, university scientists need to prove that it exists, or they’re out of a job. Oil company scientists need to prove it doesn’t exist, or they’re out of a job. I don’t actually think this is true in a lot of cases, but it’s hard to get away from the argument.

    I think all of science could do with an overhaul of the funding system. If scientists didn’t know where there money came from then they couldn’t be accused of trying to ‘please the bosses.’ I believe they have this sort of system in some of the science fields and I’d like to see it concerned for the field at large.

  3. alloycowboy on March 10, 2009 9:04 am

    There is an old expression that goes like this. When you dance with the devil you have to play his tune. Check out the article by Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. called “When Ideology Corrupts Science and Medicine”.
    http://www.ncbcenter.org/FrTad_MSOOB_32.asp

  4. Chris A. on March 10, 2009 11:53 am

    I couldn’t agree more; well said.

    I’m a new visitor directed here from Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog.

    And now, I’m afraid, a minor nit pick. There should be no apostrophe in “its” in the title. (Sorry.)

  5. Candid Engineer on March 17, 2009 1:17 pm

    New visitor, cool site. I’m relieved too, not only for the potential that federal funding for stem cells brings, but for the general change in attitude. Hopefully this will correlate into less $$ for war and more $$ for the NIH/NSF.

  6. Matt E. on March 18, 2009 9:28 am

    I must respectfully disagree, in two respects.

    First, whether or not you agree w/ Pres. Bush’s views, I do not think it is fair to say that the Bush administration decision to limit federal funding of some embryonic stem cell research is a case of “ideology” trumping “science.”

    In announcing his decision, Pres. Bush did not misrepresent the science of stem cells or its potential. Pres. Bush simply recognized that, like all human endeavors (including every profession), scientific research should be conducted within ethical bounds. People can argue about what those bounds should be, but I think we all agree that we should be guided by ethics at some level, or else we would be doomed to repeat abuses like the Tuskegee experiments.

    I encourage you to review Pres. Bush’s August 2001 speech announcing his administration’s policy. (it may be found here: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/08/20010809-2.html) It is noteworthy for how fair it is to both sides of the ethical debate and how accurately it presents the state of the science at the time as well as its prospects. These are the hallmarks of informed ethical judgment–precisely what we elect our leaders to do–and not dogmatic or reflexive “ideology”.

    Second, even if you assume that ethical considerations are “ideological,” it is clear from his full statement that Pres. Obama has not removed “ideology” from his decision-making at all; he has just changed the ethical boundaries a bit. Although Pres. Obama has allowed federal funding for certain research that did not previously qualify, he retains other limits. He vehemently opposes cloning of embryos for reproductive purposes, and does so on the expressly moral grounds that such cloning is “wrong.” This certainly is not a scientific argument, it is an ethical one.

    I think that Pres. Obama’s statement is disappointing precisely b/c it pretends to remove “ideology” from “scientific” decision-making, when in fact it announces a decision that is just as “ideological.”

    Science can tell us much about the world and can open up many possibilities. It can inform (and must inform) our ethical judgments. But science cannot answer the ethical questions itself. I would appreciate a president who understands this important distinction, and who engages with the scientific community and the public in a forthright conversation of ethics, instead of pretending that ethical concerns are mere “ideologies” to be cast aside.

  7. Frank Monaldo on March 26, 2009 5:32 pm

    Gee, I hate to let a good theory contradicted by data, but in real terms during the Bush Administration R&D went up. The ethical concerns about a particular area of research are the same as antipathy to science. However, one can say there is shift to even more development.

    See (http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/upd908f2.gif)

  8. Frank Monaldo on March 26, 2009 5:33 pm

    I should have said:

    The ethical concerns about a particular area of research are NOT the same as antipathy to science

  9. johan guttenberg on April 13, 2009 11:43 pm

    are all of you listening to yourselves. They kill babies to get the stem cells. you people think that is good. it is evil and barbaric. is it really worth helping another person at the expence of an infants life. thats like sacrificing in a way.

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