Friday, December 7, 2012

Evaluating Obama’s commitment to science

Election promises are a crucial part of a candidate’s platform in the race to presidency. Due to the high-stakes nature of presidential elections, candidates often overstate their promises in order to stand out and gain support. This often leads to doubt by the public, thereby increasing apathy towards voting and ultimately decreasing voter turnout. One way to gauge a leader’s commitment to their promises is by looking at their track record and evaluating their relevant performance in the past. In this light, the members of Yale Science Diplomats set out to evaluate the science-related promises made by President Barack Obama during his second presidential campaign by reviewing his contributions to science during his first term.

From the beginning of his presidency, it was clear that science was of high importance to Obama’s administration. Immediately, Obama appointed esteemed scientists, such as Nobel laureate Steven Chu, to lead the agencies overseeing US research and development. A major effort was made to protect scientific findings from political manipulation, and an early-term promise that “political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions” was largely kept, although with some exceptions.

Where science lay in Obama’s list of priorities was made even clearer when the stimulus bill was signed in 2009. A surprisingly large proportion of the bill was devoted to science such that individual institutions received significant boosts in funding. Furthermore, Obama’s administration birthed many innovative projects such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds high-risk energy research, as well as the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which aims to expedite drug development. Obama also set out to establish the first greenhouse-gas regulations, and even overturned federal restrictions on funding stem cell research.

Although Obama’s commitment to science has proven to be strong, there are aspects of his agenda that could still use improvement. For instance, Obama has shown opposition to many of NASA’s space programs, notably eliminating the project Constellation that aimed to return astronauts to the Moon. Moreover, the administration stumbled in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster by severely underestimating the quantity of oil that spilt into the Gulf of Mexico, leading many to question the administration’s earlier promise that scientific findings and political agendas would remain separate.

Overall, while not flawless, Obama’s dedication to science and scientific integrity, as highlighted by his performance during his first term, is very assuring. Witnessing his advocacy for science convinces us that Obama is sincere in his promises to further prioritize science, and it will be exciting to see how his scientific policies will evolve over time.

Yevgeniy Serebrenik
2nd year, MCDB (Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology)

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