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White House to Science: Welcome Back
Sarah Kuck, 10 Mar 09

science.jpg Yesterday, U.S. President Obama released a memorandum for the heads of his executive departments and agencies firmly stating that throughout the executive branch, each agency will be required to use scientific and technological information in their policymaking. In the memorandum, President Obama writes:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.
The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public. To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking. The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.
By this memorandum, I assign to the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (Director) the responsibility for ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch's involvement with scientific and technological processes. The Director shall confer, as appropriate, with the heads of executive departments and agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget and offices and agencies within the Executive Office of the President (collectively, the "agencies"), and recommend a plan to achieve that goal throughout the executive branch.

(To read his specific directions, click here)

Though the language is dry, make no mistake that this memo is cause for celebration everywhere, from research labs to court rooms, living rooms to nonprofit offices.

For example, my friend who works for the salmon advocacy group Save Our Wild Salmon is doing a little dance in her office right now. The level of scientific integrity (or lack thereof) maintained under the Bush Administration greatly compromised the health of the entire Pacific Northwest ecosystem by failing to allow scientists to report the truth about what was causing the near extinction of wild salmon, which are arguably the lifeblood of this ecosystem.

Restoring, or perhaps for the first time clearly establishing, science's rightful place in government decision making will hopefully begin to turn things around for the endangered salmon, other endangered species and ecosystems, medical research, the Environmental Protection Agency and maybe the United States as a whole. Not that this memo is a cure-all -- there are many barriers still in the way -- but it is one gigantic step in the right direction.

For me, this memorandum is like a giant stone thrown into a stagnant pond. I'm looking forward to watching its ripple effects.

Here's to science! Welcome back!

Image credit: Flickr/Jason0x21

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Good news, indeed!
(But who's the guy portrayed? It looks a bit like a depiction of Darwin burning in hell!)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 10 Mar 09

(But who's the guy portrayed? It looks a bit like a depiction of Darwin burning in hell!)

Apparently, I'm the poster boy for Obama Science, since this is the second time it's happened.

Posted by: Jason! on 10 Mar 09

I would like to point out an amusing (maybe just to me) conundrum brought to light by this part of the memo:

"The Director shall confer, as appropriate, with the heads of executive departments and agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget and offices and agencies within the Executive Office of the President..."

The Office of Management and Budget is, presumably, run by economists (as are many other agencies and departments within the Executive Branch). Economics is NOT a science and will never be until the profession acknowledges the existence of the rest of the body of scientific knowledge. I am specifically speaking of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Perhaps the "Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy" can relay the particulars of Thermodynamics to the folks at OMB.

Until the profession of economics joins the rest of the scientific community in acknowledging reality as we can describe it scientifically, economists are nothing more than an elitist club of self-serving and soothsaying pseudoscientific windbags (any suggestions on a substitution for "windbag" to make my alliteration complete?).

Although, I do agree that this memo heralds a long-awaited and desperately needed change in the direction of reality-based decision making (economists aside).

Posted by: Brent on 12 Mar 09

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