Spring/Summer 2009 Vol. 9 Number 1
In an April 27 speech to members of the National Academy of Sciences, President Barack Obama announced new initiatives and investments in scientific research, innovation, and education. And he committed to restore science to its rightful place. “The days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over,” he said.
Calling science “more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, and our environment than it has ever been,” Obama said he wants to make major investments — 3 percent of the gross domestic product — in research and innovation. This exceeds the amount invested at the height of the space race. He emphasized the importance of using funds to encourage high-risk, high-return research and to support researchers at the beginning of their careers.
Following a welcome from NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone, Obama was introduced to the audience by his science adviser and NAS member John Holdren, who said that Obama “wanted to bring science back into the center of how the government thinks, what it says, and what it does; and he is doing it.”
Obama used the occasion to announce the members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), a council of leading scientists and engineers that will help the administration formulate policy. Seven of the council’s 20 members are NAS members including PCAST co-chairs John Holdren, Eric Lander, and Harold Varmus, as well as Mario Molina, William Press, Barbara Schaal, and Ahmed Zewail.
President Barack Obama standing with Academy members chosen to serve in his administration: (left to right) Lawrence Summers, Nina Fedoroff, Steven Chu, Jane Lubchenco, Eric Lander, John P. Holdren, and Harold Varmus.
The president committed to doubling the budgets of three key science agencies — the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He also announced the launch of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a new Department of Energy organization modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. And Obama said he would triple the number of NSF graduate research fellowships.
Obama spoke about the outbreaks of swine flu, saying it is cause for concern but not for alarm. He added that “our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community. This is one more example why we can’t allow our nation to fall behind.”
The president challenged NAS members to use their love and knowledge of science to inspire American students to pursue careers in science and engineering. In addition, he urged NAS members to “think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, like science festivals, robotics competitions, and fairs that encourage young people to create, build, and invent — to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”
Obama reiterated his commitment to education and announced a national initiative, “Race to the Top,” designed to improve student achievement in math and science and move U.S. students from the middle of the pack to the top on international benchmarks over the next decade.
The speech took place during the Academy’s 146th annual meeting with more than 600 NAS members in attendance including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Nina Fedoroff, science adviser at the State Department, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, and Larry Summers, who directs the White House National Economic Council.
President Obama joins John F. Kennedy, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter as the fourth U.S. president to deliver a speech at an NAS annual meeting. Full text of the speech and a video recording, audio recording, and photos of the event are available at <national-academies.org/obama>.