April 28, 2009

Obama Pledges To Regain US Prominence In Science

On Monday, President Barack Obama vowed to make the United States the "high water mark" of scientific accomplishment that it once was, declaring a goal to assign three percent of GDP to research and development, AFP reported.

In a speech at the National Academy of Sciences, Obama accounted on a list of initiatives promising to execute the largest-ever US investment in scientific research and a remarkable turnaround of his predecessor, George W. Bush's, ideological-driven policies.

The country was abruptly thrust into a position that demanded active retrieval of its previously held appointment as the world authority in scientific research and innovation when the Obama administration faced its first major global health crisis with a fatal, potentially pandemic swine flu outbreak in Mexico and the United States. 

"At such a difficult moment," Obama told a crowd of scientists, researchers and educators, "there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities."

"I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than it has ever been."

Alluding to a drop in federal funding of physical sciences in the last 25 years, the President counseled that US accomplishments in science and math study were sluggish in the late 20th century, with a real potential of dropping even further behind other swiftly improving nations. 

"I believe it is not in our American character to follow, but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again," he encouraged.

Obama believes the Bush administration is responsible for politicizing scientific research for far too long and has proclaimed a need to put a stop to this practice. 

"We are restoring science to its rightful place," he said. "Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over."

Obama referenced the US ambition in the 1950s to accomplish space travel and its pledge to directing scientific innovation after the Sputnik 1 satellite was launched into space in 1957 by the Soviet Union.  

"That was the high water mark of America's investment in research and development. Since then our investments have steadily declined as a share of our national income," he said.

To support this ambition to lead in research and development, Obama has dedicated more than three percent of US gross domestic product (GDP) for this effort.

"We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science," he elaborated.

As part of his massive 787-billion-dollar stimulus bill, Obama has committed 21.5 billion dollars for research and development, and his 2010 budget includes another 75 billion to make research and experimentation tax credits permanent.

This is not the first reform the Obama administration has taken against a key Bush science policy.  During his first months in office, Obama supported the medical community belief that stem cell research could potentially cure degenerative diseases and turned his predecessors' decision to limit federal funding.

Bush's stance on global warming and his administration's failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change have been matters of serious concern to Obama. 

"We have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas," Obama said.

"We know that our country is better than this."

Obama intends to double the budgets of the National Science Foundation, which funds academic research, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. 

To promote states to improve quality and quantity of math and science teachers, Obama has outlined a "Race to the Top" fund in the amount of five billion dollars. 

Additionally, he has launched a 400-million-dollar initiative called Advanced Research Projects for Energy (ARPAE) dedicated to "high-risk, high-reward research."

Obama spoke briefly on his 150 billion dollar recovery plan that would span over the next decade to create renewable energy sources.

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a group of 20 scientists and engineers, appeared at the meeting and pledged to advise the President on "national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation."


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