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AAAS Applauds New Science Appointees Holdren, Lubchenco, Varmus, and Lander
[Photograph © Martha Stewart]
"We are going to have science leaders in the federal government who are genuine experts on each of the issues that are so central to bringing the United States back to its prominent position in the world," AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of the journal Science told the Boston Globe in response to President-elect Barack Obama's selection of four new science officials. "We have never had quite this array of scientists in federal government leadership positions."
John P. Holdren, who served as AAAS president and chair of the Board in 2006 and 2007, was tapped to serve as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In that capacity, he also will co-chair the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Obama announced during a 20 December radio address.
Image courtesy of Change.gov
Jane Lubchenco, who served as AAAS President in 1997 and chair in 1998, was nominated as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). AAAS Fellows Harold Varmus and Eric Lander would serve with Holdren as co-chairs of PCAST.
Each of the appointments must be approved by Congress.
Obama's commitment to science and technology at the highest levels of the U.S. government comes at a critical time, Leshner said. He noted that the United States was once again missing from the list of top-ten science and math education countries when the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study was released last month, comparing the science scores of fourth- and eighth-graders in nearly 60 nations.
"America lags behind many other industrialized countries at the task of preparing tomorrow's labor force," he said. "Yet long-term economic growth will depend upon workers who can excel in a technology-based economy. We hope that U.S. policy-makers, guided by our exceptional new science advisers, can recommend effective strategies for enhancing support of science, technology and science education for all students."
"Science at the Top of Our Agenda"
In a number of recent statements, Obama has expressed strong support for science and technology. "Whether it's the science to slow global warming, the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction, the research to find life-saving cures, or the innovations to remake our industries and create 21st century jobs—today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation," he said 20 December. "It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology."
In his radio address, Obama also emphasized the importance of "protecting free and open inquiry," and he identified scientific discovery as a key goal for his administration. "The highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us," he said. "That will be my goal as president of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work."
The president-elect's appointment of Holdren was "an inspired choice at this point in the history of the world where the big issues of the day are international security, climate and energy," Leshner told an Associated Press reporter. "John Holdren is an expert in all of those things."
AAAS Board Chair David Baltimore said: "John's appointment brings a strong intellect and deep commitment to science into the Science Advisor's office. Not only is his knowledge of energy-related issues remarkable but his ability to translate science into appropriate policy recommendations makes him an especially wonderful choice."
Holdren is the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He also holds the positions of President and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center. News of Holdren's selection as Obama's top science adviser first broke on ScienceInsider, a blog maintain by Science journalists. Obama confirmed the appointment during a 20 December radio announcement. Additional details regarding Holdren's background, plus links to video clips featuring the new U.S. science adviser can be found within the original AAAS.org story on his appointment.
A Team of S&T Practitioners and Communicators
As head of NOAA, Lubchenco will help conserve marine and coastal resources and monitor weather conditions, Obama reported. She is an environmental scientist and marine ecologist who serves as the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology and Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Oregon State University, and, like Obama's three other newly named science advisers, Lubchenco is a AAAS Fellow. She received the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology in 2005. The Washington Post had reported Lubchenco's selection for the role two days before Obama's radio broadcast.
Photograph © Public Library of Science
Photograph © Venrix
New PCAST Co-chair Harold Varmus, described by Obama as a "path-breaking scientist," was a co-recipient of a Nobel Prize for his studies of the genetic basis of cancer. He also has served as director of the National Institutes of Health under President Clinton (1993-1999), and as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City since January 2000.
Obama identified new PCAST Co-chair Eric Lander as "one of the driving forces behind mapping the human genome—one of the greatest scientific achievements in history." Lander is a founding director of the Broad Institute and a principal leader of the Human Genome Project. He is a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. In addition to being a AAAS Fellow, Lander participated in the Association's Mass Media Fellowships in 1977.
"Eric Lander is an immensely talented scientist, with a background in mathematics as well as management before he moved to biology," said Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of the journal Science and past president of the National Academy of Sciences. "A dynamic and ambitious leader in modern genomics, he is also charismatic speaker and devoted teacher for MIT undergraduates. He will be an inspirational co-chair for PCAST."
In 2004, Lander received the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology. Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, said Lander "has helped to tell the stories of genomics research to a broad cross-section of the general public in a consistently compelling and meaningful way," and "in this way, he has shown his commitment to educating the public about a new and complex science with profound implications for the quality of human life."
Holdren: The Central Importance of Energy Efficiency
Holdren, trained in aeronautics, astronautics, and plasma physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, co-founded and co-led for 23 years the campus-wide interdisciplinary graduate degree program in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley. His work has focused on causes and consequences of global environmental change, analysis of energy technologies and policies, ways to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons and materials, and the interaction of content and process in science and technology policy.
Holdren is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In December 1995, he delivered the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance lecture on behalf of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; he served as chair of the Pugwash executive committee from 1987 to 1997.
In 2006, as he prepared to assume the presidency at AAAS, he said: "I believe strongly in the power of partnerships, across institutions, sectors, and countries, for addressing the great challenges at the intersection of science and technology with the human condition—the challenges of poverty, disease, weapons of mass destruction, environmental impoverishment, climate change, terrorism, and more. I also believe strongly in the power of education—of students, of professionals, of publics, of policy-makers—in increasing the capacity of society to meet and surmount these challenges."
In an August 2006 commentary for the San Francisco Chronicle, Holdren and Leshner stressed the importance of energy conservation to address the threats posed by climate change.
"A prudent strategy must combine adaptation with effective measures to reduce the pace and magnitude of climate change," they wrote. "The best mitigation option immediately available is to accelerate the long-standing trend in raising the efficiency of energy use with the help of more efficient cars, trucks, planes, buildings, appliances and manufacturing processes. Between 1973 and 2005, the United States saved three times more energy through improvements in energy efficiency than through expanded supply. Those reductions in energy use also brought big reductions in what U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions otherwise would have been ...
"The huge reductions in carbon dioxide emissions required to stabilize the climate will be attainable only if a strong push for increased energy efficiency is accompanied by an equally strong push to replace the predominantly fossil sources of fuel and electricity in today's world with some combination of renewable energy sources, nuclear energy and advanced fossil-fuel technologies that capture and sequester carbon dioxide rather than releasing it to the atmosphere."
In his presidential address to the AAAS Annual Meeting in 2007, Holdren said world leaders would have to address contemporary challenges by working on a range of fronts—economic, diplomatic and technological. He urged scientists and engineers to get personally involved in developing solutions, and he drew a standing ovation when he called on them to "tithe" 10% of their time "to working to increase the benefits of science and technology for the human condition and to decrease the liabilities."
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), founded in 1848, is the world's largest general scientific society; it serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. It is publisher of the journal Science, which has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world and an estimated total readership of 1 million. AAAS is a non-profit organization, with membership open to everyone. It fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; communication; and more.
22 December 2008