Science in a Post-Bush World

Susan F. Wood, the assistant FDA commissioner for women's health and director of the Office of Women's Health who resigned from her position in 2005, claiming political interference, is encouraged by Obama's commitment to strengthening the science base at government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration.

She hopes he underscores his commitment by appointing strong leaders and empowering them to rely on sound research.

"I have great hopes and expectations that this election demonstrated that not just the Obama campaign wants a return to good science on what works and [for] people with expertise and experience to be involved in those decisions," said Wood, who is now a research professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services. "It's an issue that resonates with the American people. … If there's a reason for using good science, it's really what can help government do its job properly."

Wanted: A Cabinet-Level Science Advisor

On several hot-button science issues, Obama has offered approaches and policy changes that scientists have applauded.

Recognizing the potential of stem cell research to treat Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury and other disorders, he has said that he supports expanding such research and would lift the current administration's ban on federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001.

He has also said that there can no longer be any doubt that human activities are influencing the global climate.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, he has proposed a market-based cap-and-trade system that sets a cap on the amount of a greenhouse gas that can be emitted.

Scientists, like Chalfie, are heartened by these proposals and expect Obama to follow through on them.

But they say that they're also watching out for one key decision: the creation of a cabinet-level science advisor.

"Look at what the [next] president does in terms of appointing a science advisor," said John Porter, chairman of Research! America, a nonprofit medical and health research advocacy alliance, and former Illinois congressman.

The sooner Obama appoints a science advisor, the better, Porter said.

Bush didn't appoint John H. Marburger as his science advisor until five months after taking office. And he didn't give the position a cabinet ranking.

Obama has said that he will appoint a chief technology officer, and the names of Google's Vint Cerf and Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos have been floated as possible contenders.

However, Porter emphasized, the high-level position should represent all the sciences.

In terms of research, Porter said, the new administration should ensure that the physical sciences keep up with the life sciences and funding levels should increase by 3 percent, above inflation, annually.

Obama's plan to double research funding in 10 years, is a "worthy goal," Porter said, adding that the economic climate could present a challenge.

Regardless, he said, he is hopeful that Obama's victory means the role of science is moving up.

"I think it's a new day for science in America," said Shawn Otto, chief executive officer of Science Debate 2008. "At last we're going to see a return to policy that's crafted on evidence instead of the other way around."

Obama has won supporters from the scientific community, he added, because he not only has demonstrated an ability to synthesize the known facts into policy, he also makes an effort to reach out to those who may disagree with him.

And that, Otto said, "is similar to the best traditions of the scientific process."

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