President Biden and Vice President Harris Really Will Listen to the Scientists!

January 15, 2021 | 4:25 pm
Andrew Rosenberg
Former Contributor

The Union of Concerned Scientists has advocated for a stronger role of science in our government for a long time. The program I lead, the Center for Science and Democracy, campaigns for that very goal. And we have made extensive recommendations for the next administration to restore, rebuild and improve the role of science in our federal government.

So for me and my colleagues at UCS, Friday was a good day. President-elect Biden and Vice-President elect Harris made a big step toward their promise to “listen to the scientists.” They announced the science leadership for the new administration. A set of outstanding scientists. And just as important, they are elevating the role of the Presidential Science Advisor to the Cabinet level, something we have long advocated for. That means scientists will be at the table and in the room when key issues are discussed and decisions are made—something that has been sorely lacking in the outgoing Trump administration.

The President-elect named Dr. Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT, to be the Presidential Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

The science of social justice

The incoming Biden-Harris administration has consistently focused on four key challenges; the pandemic, climate change, racial injustice, and rebuilding a fairer economy. So the appointment of a luminary social scientist, Dr. Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council and Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, as Deputy Director of OSTP is significant. Dr. Nelson’s work includes studies of race, injustice and the role of science and technology.

As we have recommended, science must play a role in the fight for racial and environmental justice. The science community has a lot of work to do to meet that challenge and we look to Dr. Nelson to lead that effort.

The power of diversity and expertise

President-elect Biden also named Drs. Frances Arnold of CalTech and Maria Zuber of MIT to co-chair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the first time the council will be led by women.

Dr. Francis Collins will remain the Director of the National Institute of Health. Kei Koizumi, most recently at AAAS and a veteran of the Obama administration, will serve as chief of staff at OSTP. Narda Jones will be the Director of Legislative Affairs.

These are all outstanding scientists and thought leaders. It is so refreshing to know that such an experienced and highly qualified team will lead the nation’s science enterprise. President-elect Biden has already written to Dr. Lander posing a set of key questions on how to harness the power of science and technology to meet the huge challenges the country is facing

The Union of Concerned Scientists applauds these appointments and the strong role that science will take in the incoming administration. We, and many in the science community are anxious to put the last four years of science being sidelined and politically manipulated behind us. Science can and should play a critical role in public policy. We at UCS stand ready and eager to work with the new science team in the White House.