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Volume 87 Issue 18 | p. 7 | News of The Week
Issue Date: May 4, 2009

Obama Commits To Support For Science

President aims to raise federal R&D funding to 3% of GDP
Department: Government & Policy, Science & Technology
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Obama addressed members of the National Academy of Sciences at their annual meeting. More On This Topic: News Brief |Audio | Video | Transcript of Speech | Photos
Credit: NAS
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Obama addressed members of the National Academy of Sciences at their annual meeting. More On This Topic: News Brief |Audio | Video | Transcript of Speech | Photos
Credit: NAS

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA pledged his Administration's support for increasing funding of basic research and of math and science education in a speech last week before members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

In the April 27 speech, Obama set forth a goal to increase the federal funding of research and development to more than 3% of the gross domestic product. This would raise annual R&D spending to more than $400 billion—well over twice the current level.

The scientific community enthusiastically welcomed the higher R&D funding goals. "The President rightly recognized that investments in basic research and science education are essential for the long-term health of the American economy," said Albert H. Teich, director of science and policy programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a statement.

Obama also committed to doubling the budgets of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards & Technology over the next 10 years and to launching the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. This project to support transformational energy technology research got its first funding from the stimulus package signed in February. The President also said he wants to make the research and technology tax credit permanent and will move to modernize the U.S. health care system.

"I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions and not the other way around." —President Barack Obama

Obama received vigorous applause from the academy members for pledging a renewed commitment to improving mathematics and science education. Among the various programs the President said will be funded are new grant programs for states to train qualified high school math and science teachers and an initiative to triple the number of NSF graduate research fellowships. He also set a goal to increase the college graduation rate of U.S. students so that it becomes the highest in the world.

The loudest applause came when Obama told NAS members of a "new effort to ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information. I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions and not the other way around."

American Chemical Society President Thomas H. Lane commended Obama for "focusing national attention on scientific research, innovation, and math and science education." In the same statement, Lane said, "The Administration's proposed 2010 budget and [the President's] efforts to include substantial funding for research and education programs in the recovery package speak to these issues." He also praised Obama's remarks about the need to emphasize scientific integrity and openness in the policy-making process.

Obama also challenged the scientists and engineers at the NAS meeting to go back to the classroom and inspire students by telling them about their work and why it is important to others. He said he will participate in a public service outreach program to encourage students to choose careers in science and technology.

The Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America (ASTRA), a coalition of companies, trade organizations, and universities working to increase funding for the physical sciences, called Obama's goals outstanding. ASTRA Chairman and former ACS president Mary L. Good said in a statement that ASTRA "enthusiastically embraces what the President himself called 'the largest commitment to science research and innovation in American history.' "

Obama also announced the final appointments to his President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology (PCAST). Among the 20 members of the committee are several prominent chemists including Chad Mirkin, professor of materials science and engineering, chemistry, and medicine at Northwestern University; Mario Molina, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego; David E. Shaw, chief scientist at D. E. Shaw Research; and Ahmed Zewail, professor of chemistry and physics at California Institute of Technology.

 
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