Monday, 12 January 2009

Blessed are the Geeks...

for They Shall Inherit the Earth.

Not only is that the BEST title ever for an Economist article, it also describes one of the things that has made me most happy so far about Barack Obama's Presidential decision-making:

Scientists are getting some serious klout. Since "klout" is the base unit of all transactions in Washington DC and the scientific community has been on a starvation diet of klout for the past 8 years or so, I'd say they've earned it.

Three cheers for the reality based community! Weeee're baaaack.

On December 15th Barack Obama, the incoming president, announced that he was nominating Steven Chu, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist, to be his energy secretary. At the moment, Dr Chu is head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he has built up a big solar-energy-research project. He is also a strong advocate of research into nuclear power and foresees a world in which fossil fuels are largely replaced by other sources of energy.

On December 20th the president-elect followed Dr Chu’s appointment by nominating Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the government agency responsible for studying the climate, and also for keeping an eye on marine life. Dr Lubchenco has been critical of the Bush administration’s lack of respect for climate science, and for its inaction on greenhouse-gas emissions. She is also concerned about marine pollution and the appearance in the ocean of oxygen-depleted dead zones caused by such pollution.

On the same day John Holdren, a physicist at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Harvard, who is an expert in the fields of energy, the environment and nuclear proliferation, was appointed as the new presidential science adviser, and he will enjoy higher authority in that position than his Republican predecessor did. In 2007, when Dr Holdren was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), he argued publicly for swift action on climate change.

Geneticists, too, get a look in. Two of them—Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Eric Lander, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—will be co-chairmen of the president’s council of advisers on science and technology. All in all, as Alan Leshner, chief executive of the AAAS, puts it, “we’ve never had a president surrounded in close proximity with so many well-known, top scientific minds.” All of them, he predicts, will have access to the president and influence on policy, or else they would have refused the jobs. Dr Leshner says that Dr Varmus has “no interest in being a potted plant. He is a very competent and smart person with tremendous judgment who would not waste his time.”

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