Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 16, 2008

PRO-SCIENCE.... Late yesterday, Barack Obama held a press conference to introduce most of his environmental team, and the names coincided with the rumors from last week: Steven Chu for Energy Secretary, Lisa Jackson to head the EPA, Nancy Sutley to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Carol Browner to head a new a White House post as a coordinator on energy issues.

But in introducing Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Obama made a comment that stood out: "His appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action."

Now, I realize this may sound like the soft bigotry of low expectations, but we've reached a point at which hearing a president praise "science" and "facts" emphatically is so refreshing, and so encouraging, it raises hopes about the new-found importance of reality in government. As Greg Sargent noted, "Obama's lines today will encapsulate for liberals as strongly as anything Obama has said just how big the potential of the moment feels right now, since the previous administration's disdain for 'science' and 'facts' contributed perhaps as much as anything else to the nightmarish quality the last eight years held for them."

Quite right. Two little words, one big message.

Indeed, it's not just Obama. The pro-science party is evident on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, too.

As the White House tries to pick up the pieces of the auto industry bailout, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is already looking ahead to pumping more science-related spending into the massive economic recovery bill Democrats will begin moving through Congress next month.

The contrast Monday was striking. The Bush administration was sorting through the immediate crisis facing General Motors Corp. even as a new legal analysis by the Congressional Research Service raised red flags that could force Treasury to take a more roundabout route in providing aid.

Pelosi, by comparison, seemed reborn, having never liked the financing scheme for the $14 billion auto loan bill, which diverted funds from an advanced-technology program she wanted to speed the production of more-energy-efficient cars. Fresh from one of her "innovation agenda" events at Princeton University on Monday morning, the California Democrat told a Capitol press conference that the $500 billion to $600 billion economic recovery package would emphasize science as a path forward for the nation, not just public works.

What does Pelosi have in mind? Investing in renewable fuels, improving the electric grid, and investing more in the National Institutes of Health, among other things.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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How sad when the world's leaders deny reality and insert their own. Much has been made by the White House of Ahmadinejad's comments about about wiping Israel off the map and his questioning that the holocaust actually happened. Yet, the White House is just as guilty of substituting reality. Actually worse, since the Bushies are in a position of more power. Denying global warming for 6 years and then begrudgingly accepting it while refusing to do anything, will have profound consequences for millions (if not billions) of people in the future.

Posted by: palinoscopy on December 16, 2008 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

As a Scientist, can I have an Amen!!

Posted by: Heather on December 16, 2008 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

i like new technoogy as much as the next person, but if investing in renewables means investing in research as opposed to investing in building/deploying, it won't do much to revive the economy in the here and now.

Posted by: Auto on December 16, 2008 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

Don't forget to spread some love to the NSF.

Posted by: Walker on December 16, 2008 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, researchers spend money, too!

I was way too happy about Obama's pledge to stick to facts and science. After the theocracy we've been living in for the last 8 years, actual democracy should be cool.

Posted by: Personal Failure on December 16, 2008 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

and what will this mean in practical terms? Have a look at the IG report about the Interior Department: no more of the corruption once Obama is in office. (If you want an example of how the Bush team rotted government from the inside, the report makes for sad reading. Bush is our Mugabe.)

Posted by: sjw on December 16, 2008 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

If this pledge of making decisions based on facts can be met, the Obama administration has the potential to indeed change the US and the world in profound ways that we can scarcely imagine. And not just in the sciences or the environment, but in justice, the economy, education, civil rights, and so much more.

George Bush talked often of letting the "facts on the ground" determine our military policies in Iraq. But, when did any of us actually believe him? When did any decision he or his henchmen make seem even safety-pinned to a fact?

Somehow, it is easier to imagine Obama and the cabinet he is assembling taking the time and effort to examine reality and acting accordingly. Every time Obama makes a statement like this, I am reminded of why I voted for him. And why January 20th cannot possibly get here soon enough.

Posted by: chrenson on December 16, 2008 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

If you don't believe in fossils, how come you use fossil-fuels?

We are here because of science. Thousands of years of humans testing hypotheses.

Being pro-science is like being pro-sun. It's a no-brainer.

Political parties that have a large percentage of creationists in their midst tend to not evolve. :-)

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on December 16, 2008 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Pro-Sun? Don't be daft, man! That's the wheel of Apollo's chariot!

Posted by: inkadu on December 16, 2008 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Fixing the grid is a prerequisite to electrified rail transit for the masses---and I can build an awesome clubhouse for the kids from one of those nasty, oil-burning buses....

Posted by: Steve W. on December 16, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

The modern GOP is the faithful godchild of Republicon Senator Simon Cameron, whose most famous achievements were swindling Native Americans for personal gain, and once remarking about the Smithsonian:

"I am tired of all this sort of thing called science here... We have spent millions in that sort of thing for the last few years, and it is time it should be stopped."

Posted by: melior on December 16, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

It seems that they need some of that ol' time reality over at The Department of the Interior as well

Posted by: jhm on December 16, 2008 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK
i like new technoogy as much as the next person, but if investing in renewables means investing in research as opposed to investing in building/deploying, it won't do much to revive the economy in the here and now.

If the investment in modernizing the electrical grid means anything, there'll be money put into building and deploying. (The grid is deployment, eh?)

Posted by: gwangung on December 16, 2008 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

I hope Obama's pro-science agenda extends to the nation's vaccine program, which is under assault by flat-earthers who think vaccines cause autism. Anti-vaccine activists are already trying to conflate their cause with legitimate concerns over air and water pollution.


Posted by: AutismNewsBeat on December 16, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

What's really sad after the last eight years is that Obama actually has to state that he's pro-science

Posted by: Ninerdave on December 16, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

If Pelosi believes that "renewable fuels" is a key element I hope she pays attention to the science. Joe Romm says it best and most frequently:


"Biomass is a very inefficient means of turning sunlight into energy, and transporting biomass very far has a high monetary and energy cost, and internal combustion engines are a very inefficient means of energy conversion. All that inefficiency and energy loss means you need a huge amount of land to deliver a lot of zero-carbon energy to the wheels of a car, especially compared to say solar (PV or thermal-electric) and wind (especially since the actual land area a wind turbine renders unusable is quite small) charging a plug in or electric vehicle."

Short translation: We could turn all our cropland and so-called scrub land into fuel production and still not supply all the fuel we need for internal combustion vehicles. In the process we would destroy genetic diversity.

Electrifying and modernizing our rail transport system wins most kudoes from renewable energy analysts.

Let's hope Pelosi listens to the science and not the lobbyists from agribusiness.

Posted by: D Pecan on December 16, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

"and we understand that the facts demand bold action"

Well, that's prejudging things a little, isn't it? What if the science says that bold action isn't necessary?

Or is he saying that the facts are already in? Personally, I don't care about global warming - as long as the US government isn't killing people by the thousands, I like it just fine.

Posted by: flubber on December 16, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK



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