Obama’s Speech to the National Academy of Sciences April 28, 2009

Obama’s Speech to the National Academy of Sciences

This guest post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the American Humanist Association. He usually blogs at Rant & Reason.

President Barack Obama gave a promising speech on science yesterday to the National Academy of Sciences pledging to devote 3% of our GDP to research and development, proclaiming: “We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the Space Race… This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history.”

I’m sure that my standards have been lowered by living through the last 8 years, but this sort of talk is extremely promising:

Fourth, we are restoring science to its rightful place.

On March 9th, I signed an executive memorandum with a clear message: Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over. Our progress as a nation – and our values as a nation – are rooted in free and open inquiry. To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy.

That is why I have charged the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with leading a new effort to ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information. I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions – and not the other way around.

There isn’t much question to whom those comments were directed. Two examples from recent articles come to mind:

On Plan B (Washington Post, April 23): “In his 52-page decision, Korman repeatedly criticized the FDA’s handling of the issue, agreeing with allegations in a lawsuit that the decision was ‘arbitrary and capricious’ and influenced by ‘political and ideological’ considerations imposed by the Bush administration.”

On greenhouse gases (New York Times, April 17): “Agency scientists were virtually unanimous in determining that those gases caused such harm, but top Bush administration officials suppressed their work and took no action. In his first days in office, Mr. Obama promised to review the case and act quickly if the findings were justified. The announcement Friday [April 17] was the fruit of that review.”

Beyond those cases, I would love to see science restored when it comes to:

3) Sex-Ed classes (No more failed Abstinence-only classes)

4) Curriculums on Evolution (There is no “controversy”)

5) Stem-Cell research

Am I missing more?

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  • Siamang

    How about that NASA overseer who wouldn’t let scientists talk about the Big Bang because he thought it contradicted scripture.

    Also Global Warming.

  • Siamang –

    I only heard about NASA being pressured to censor global warming reports.

    In that vein, I was reminded of this NYTimes article as well. Phillip Cooney edited scientific reports to downplay the consensus about global warming. When the news became public, he resigned and went to work for Exxon.

    Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the “climate team leader” and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he has no scientific training.


  • Siamang


    The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the “war room” of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen’s public statements.

    In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word “theory” needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

    The Big Bang is “not proven fact; it is opinion,” Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, “It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.”

    It continued: “This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most.”

    The memo also noted that The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual specified the phrasing “Big Bang theory.” Mr. Acosta, Mr. Deutsch’s boss, said in an interview yesterday that for that reason, it should be used in all NASA documents.

    The Deutsch memo was provided by an official at NASA headquarters who said he was upset with the effort to justify changes to descriptions of science by referring to politically charged issues like intelligent design. Senior NASA officials did not dispute the message’s authenticity.

    Mr. Wild declined to be interviewed; Mr. Deutsch did not respond to e-mail or phone messages. On Friday evening, repeated queries were made to the White House about how a young presidential appointee with no science background came to be supervising Web presentations on cosmology and interview requests to senior NASA scientists.

  • Wow. See, that’s exactly why I asked if I was missing more. Good find.

  • So if you have government doing science, each side will fight for control of government. Perhaps Govt. should stay out of the business of science. We don’t want science decided by the masses — and it is the masses that decide government.

    There is no perfect solution, but government is one of the worse ones.

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Max Planck

  • Emily

    Abiogenesis/evolution as well as the big bang! I find it funny that there’s a boy in my astronomy class who doesn’t believe in the Big Bang or evolution and is thus referred to as a ‘skeptic’ by my astronomy lecturer. Oh dear.

  • Anybody besides me think it would be hilarious to see the Right-wing spill their collective coffee if someone like PZ Myers was named a national science advisor to the President?

    It’ll never happen, but still…

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