It has been a tumultuous January. COVID-19 dominated the conversation globally—see our double issue examining what the pandemic taught us and how it could affect science going forward—and the main theme in the US was the presidential transition.
In this issue, we examine what the new administration, led by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, means for chemists and the chemistry enterprise (see page 28). This kind of analysis is a once-every-4-years assignment for C&EN. With each new presidential administration, we analyze what changes might be in store. We covered the Trump administration, the first and second Obama administrations,George W. Bush’s before him, and so on.
Even before being sworn in, Biden established a plan to stop the spread of COVID-19. His national strategy aims to increase vaccinations and expand testing and mask wearing, among other goals. And within his first few hours in office, he signed a number of executive orders reversing a selection of his predecessor’s policies. One of his first acts in office, in fact, was to start the process of rejoining the Paris climate agreement.
Biden hopes to restore the US as a world leader in climate action, and he sees the US engagement in the treaty as critical to achieving that goal—and, one would argue, to the success of the Paris accord. Moving rapidly to rejoin the agreement is important, as the annual Conference of the Parties (a meeting of the decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) will occur in November. Part of Biden’s plan is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in the US, and so he has, among other actions, revoked the permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and reversed rollbacks to vehicle emission standards.
In addition, Biden has acted on immigration, bolstering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which defers the deportation of immigrants brought to the US as children; he also ended the Trump-era ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. These moves are in line with an American Chemical Society position statement calling for policies that ensure the US has “the best-qualified and appropriately skilled workforce for the U.S. chemistry enterprise.”
He also renewed his support for the World Health Organization (WHO). This is good news for the WHO because the US is its largest funder, and this money will help the organization fulfill its commitment to protecting public health globally. And it’s good news for Americans, who benefit from the WHO’s work to protect the global population from SARS-CoV-2 and its new strains, as well as future threats.
Biden also announced his appointments to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), a body that coordinates science policy across federal agencies. He chose geneticist Eric Lander to helm the OSTP and sociologist Alondra Nelson to be deputy director for science and society. If confirmed by the Senate, Lander will also be presidential science adviser, a role that is part of the cabinet for the first time. Biden also appointed Nobel Prize–winning chemical engineer Frances Arnold and geophysicist Maria Zuber to cochair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, an advisory group that has provided scientific advice directly to the president since the 1990s.
These appointments are also a welcome announcement. Having science represented at the highest possible level in the US government is a good thing. These scientists will have a voice when policies are made, hopefully driving evidence-based decision-making and influencing plans and strategies that advance education, innovation, employment, and more for the sciences.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.