Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 20, 2008

A VISION FOR SCIENCE.... Barack Obama used his weekly radio/video address to introduce members of his science team this morning, but just as importantly, he talked a bit about his vision for the role of science in the coming years.

"From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way: leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process," Obama said.

"Because the truth is that promoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it's about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It's about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it's inconvenient -- especially when it's inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. [...]

"I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery; if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity."

I realize that it's a testament to Bush's presidency that I get so excited about a new president talking about science is such a progressive way, but I can't help but feel encouraged about this reality-based rhetoric.

When Obama introduced Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, the president-elect said, "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."

Greg Sargent noted that the emphasis helped "encapsulate for liberals ... 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."

Steve Benen 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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So we may once again be leaving the Dark Ages that the Republicans have brought us into. Let's hope not too many of our youth are science challenged by their religions and politics.

Posted by: Chris on December 20, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

- it's about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.

which is why NASA's Mike Griffin doesn't want to cooperate with Obama's transition team.

Posted by: Danp on December 20, 2008 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Obama's position, with its inherent belief in an objective reality, is actually quite conservative, and a refreshing change from the radical post-modernist relativism of the Bushistas.

It's so amusing that our political labeling has gotten so tangled up that the ones who believe that all reality is subjective and open for manipulation are the "conservatives" and those who believe in objective reality, empirical observation and scientific process are "progressives."

Posted by: biggerbox on December 20, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

That's music to my ears.

Every time he says something like this, I feel like we are finally returning to a national policy of sanity. Inauguration Day promises to augur very well indeed.

Posted by: N.Wells on December 20, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Nice -- so when is he going to stop waving around his pet creationist preacher?

Posted by: janinsanfran on December 20, 2008 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

The rebound of the trolls, more virulent than ever, a few weeks after Obama's election conforms to the scientific argument that when trying to rid society of a pestilence half measures actually make things worse. Moderation is like not taking your antibiotics for the full 2 weeks.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on December 20, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

I want to see a Saturday morning message from Obama in which he declares that all Americans, the high and the low, are subject to the law. I want to see him call for accountability and disclosure for the Bushies no matter where investigations take us. I want to see Obama repeal the FISA act and telecom imunity that he supported.

I will not hold my breath

In the meantime I am souring on this blog because it is so uncritical of Obama as to be losing credibility as a news source. I voted for him. And I have great hopes for his administration. But he IS a politician and, although he will surely be better than Bush, he needs prodding to make the hard decisions--not uncritical cheerleading. Remember he belongs to a political party well known for it's spinelessness.

Posted by: Geeeez on December 20, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Danp--The link you provide seems to undermine your point. Perhaps, I just don't get it. What is your point-exactly?

Posted by: Geeeez on December 20, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Greg Sargent noted "... the previous administration's disdain for 'science' and 'facts' ..."

Contrary to popular belief, the Cheney-Bush administration did not have an ideological "disdain for science and facts."

Indeed, the Cheney-Bush administration was not ideological at all. They were crooks masquerading as ideologues, to keep everyone distracted and confused by their fake, phony -- and intentionally incoherent -- so-called "neoconservative" pseudo-ideology while they looted the treasury and plundered the nation and the world to enrich themselves, and their ultra-rich cronies and financial backers.

The Cheney-Bush administration suppressed, censored and corrupted science for one simple reason: because particular, specific scientific findings were impediments to their ruthless, rapacious, corrupt, kleptocratic, corporatist class-warfare agenda.

The most glaringly obvious example is climate science. The Cheney-Bush regime did not work to suppress and censor the scientific reality of anthropogenic global warming because they were "ideologues" or "anti-science". They did so because to acknowledge the scientific reality would require the implementation of policies that would diminish the trillion-dollar profits of their primary political "base", namely the fossil fuel corporations.

They fully understood and accepted what the science was saying. That's exactly why they went to such egregious lengths to suppress it.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 20, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

It's so refreshing to hear someone talk about science again--I agree. And that he is appointing these folks who are actually competent, who believe in global warming, who really get the value of science.

Science has been mocked for many years in the white house--even before Bush years, during the Reagan administration. Yes, it was creepy in seeing just how certain they were by relying on their own morals, just how indifferent they remained to whole notion that we should be humbled by the facts. Science is at heart a very humbling practice, because you keep learning there are no absolutes, you keep an open mind and keep going for the gold.

How much easier to just "pray on it" and come out with the certain answer that is above all reality.

Bush in particular truly believed (as Palin and others) that God (HIS god, that is) should lead the way in guiding choices about everything from the economy to the environment to national security.

Posted by: science, schmience--just pray on it on December 20, 2008 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Did you notice him talking about inventing the internet and then going to talk about inconvenient truths? I think he's throwing Al Gore some love.

Posted by: mark r on December 20, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

The President didn't conclude with "God bless America"... we're doooooomed!

Posted by: melior on December 20, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Little child in London.

There's the
light of
a delicate child
in the country,
near a grand
piano; I wait for
the side of
a weeping, and
I love you,
my care, while
the plain disappears...

Francesco Sinibaldi

Posted by: Francesco Sinibaldi on December 20, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

A scientist at Energy, an environmentalist at EPA and a teacher at Education. Is this guy nuts?

Posted by: klyde on December 20, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, the inconvenient truth that Al Gore brought to light was heralded by the much trashed Rick Warren.
He was apparently very instrumental in bringing the Global Warming crisis to many a fundamentalists' ears. Not that this condones Obama's choice for him to do the invovation. It's just one more piece of strange and interesting news.

It's like selective hearing, these contradictions he stands for and against.

What a shame he doesn't see shunning gays and dissing a woman's right to choice as a 'convenient choice' that happens to sell well.

Posted by: Selective Hearing on December 20, 2008 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Is it my imagination, but has Obama appointed two Nobel Prize winners in the sciences to his administration- Drs. Chu + Varmas (sp)? The importance of this is difficult to overstate.


Posted by: Zorro on December 20, 2008 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Mike Griffin needs to have his ass strapped to the outside of a Ares I rocket and sent to the moon and left there.

Posted by: wbn on December 21, 2008 at 12:10 AM | PERMALINK

Contrast Obama with the incumbent:

Newsweek Periscope, 2/11/2002: Sex Education 'Values Trumps Data' by Pat Wingert

When President George W. Bush pushed through a series of reading reforms late last year as part of his "No Child Left Behind" education bill, he made it clear that only "scientifically proven" methods would get federal funding. That was no surprise, since research has shown that phonics, the reading method preferred by conservatives, is an essential part of any effective literacy program. But when it comes to sex education, quality research is apparently not nearly so important. This week, to the delight of the right wing, Bush fulfilled his campaign promise to boost federal funding for abstinence-only education programs to $135 million, about a third more than they got last year -- even though the nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has found that the only scientifically proven programs include information about both abstinence and contraception. At a recent Washington symposium, one of the president's top advisers on welfare shrugged and smiled when he was asked about this seeming contradiction. "Values trumps data," he said. "Conservatives will be ferocious about this."

Posted by: Uncle Jimbo on December 21, 2008 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

Washington has been dumping on science, scientists, technology, and engineers for the last forty years with career-destroying massive immigration of foreign techs. I'm sure a PC prez like Obama will continue this tradition so that no sane US student would have an interest in science or engineering but for economic desperation, and grad schools will continue to attract mostly foreign students to improve foreign economic competition against the US.

Posted by: Luther on December 21, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Luther inadvertently makes an excellent point his post: namely, that science education, like all other education, works from the bottom up. In other words, our realistic goals can't be to make the current crop of US high schoolers the world's best in math + sciences; it's to ensure that kids entering first grade in 2009 get the education fundamentals which will make *them* the world's best in math + sciences.

Education isn't an easy process, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either a fool, insane, or both.

Or perhaps a member of the Bush family,

Posted by: Zorro on December 21, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Warren also apparently doesn't believe in evolution?
Argh! (See Kruger's blog at the NYT and the link to his interview with Sam Harris). So Warren is an advocate and believer of Global Warming, but he doesn't believe in evolution. Go figure.

Posted by: Doesn't believe in evolution on December 22, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK



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