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Science & the Public

Science & the Public

Obama's brain trust

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As I noted last week, advisers to the presidential candidates have been fairly mum about which scientists, medical leaders and engineers have signed on to advise and/or support Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.

It’s something Albert H. Teich also noted when I contacted this director of Science & Policy Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science several weeks back. Observed Teich in August, “You don’t have any really identifiable science people associated with McCain’s campaign, whereas there are quite a few people on the Obama side.” Indeed, he said, “You could say that there is a brain trust of scientists” linked to the Democratic candidate.

Yesterday, Obama’s campaign released “an open letter to the American people” signed by 61 Nobel laureates. All received their award for achievements in physics (22), chemistry (14) or medicine (25).

In their letter, they argue that during the past eight years, “vital parts of our country’s scientific enterprise have been damaged by stagnant or declining federal support. The government’s scientific advisory process has been distorted by political considerations.”

Commenting on Obama’s stump rhetoric, the letters point “in particular” to measures that the Illinois senator said he plans to implement to meet national and global needs “through new initiatives in education and training, expanded research funding, an unbiased process for obtaining scientific advice, and an appropriate balance of basic and applied research.” Many of these points have been outlined on Obama’s website and in his written responses to Science Debate 2008 questions (all of which are also summarized in the latest issue of Science News and Science News online reports).

Alas, Obama’s plans for boosting the conduct of science and the development of a larger, better trained workforce may be compromised by current events. If, as seems likely, the public will be asked to shoulder a $700 billion-plus bailout of financial institutions in the coming year, Uncle Sam’s purse strings will be stretched taut. Just Wednesday, Obama acknowledged that such a bailout would slow the pace at which he — should he reach the White House — would be able to phase in his proposed changes.

When McCain's campaign releases the names of his science and engineering advisers and supporters, we'll post those here as well.

In the mean time, let’s just hope that the new president, whoever it turns it to be, doesn’t neglect science as he deals with Wall Street’s economic struggles. Because science is one of the best long-term investments any nation can make. And it pays off in good times and bad.

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