Monday, March 9, 2009

Science Policy Takes Center Stage at the White House - Embryonic Stem Cells and More

Today, American President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order that lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The ban was put in place by past-president George W. Bush shortly after taking office in 2001. In lifting the ban, Obama said "we will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield."

But perhaps even more importantly, Obama took this occasion to issue 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."

In sharp contrast to what many feel was a former president adverse to science, President Obama insisted that supporting science was a critical function of government. The memorandum, he said, would

"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."

He made clear that his decision was not made based on his belief in science alone: "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering." Further, he said that "a false choice has often been presented between science and faith, and that corrupting, shielding, or shying away from the facts science lays bare benefits nobody."

The emphasis on science is very welcome to most scientists who feel that their ability to pursue meaning research has been unduly restricted in recent years.

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