One step forward for Science

When the Biden-Harris team recently presented their science team and the priorities the science team was tasked with, it was a step forward for science as science was given a more central role in the new administration. The President and the...

When the Biden-Harris team recently presented their science team and the priorities the science team was tasked with, it was a step forward for science as science was given a more central role in the new administration.

The President and the Executive Office has three entities supporting the administration’s science agenda; the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP), the Presidential Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).

OSTP was established by Congress in 1976 with the role to advise the President and others within the Executive Office of the President on the scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of the economy, national security, homeland security, health, foreign relations, and the environment.

Dr. Eric Lander (Photo: David Fox)

For the position as Director of the Office of Science and Technology (OSTP), Dr. Eric Lander, cofounder and Director of Broad Institute and Professor in biology and systems biology at MIT and Harvard Medical School respectively, is nominated. Once confirmed this position will be elevated to a cabinet position for the first time, ensuring science will be at the forefront within the Executive Branch. Dr. Lander’s background in life sciences indicates the importance the new administration gives to this area. Dr. Lander is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and an Honorary Doctor of Lund University.  In addition, President Biden instituted a new position as Deputy Director for OSTP with responsibility for science and society. Sociologist Dr. Alondra Nelson, Professor at the Institute of Advanced Study is nominated for this position. 

PCAST is an advisory body to the President and the Executive Branch for issues related to science and technology. Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s created his Science Advisory Board in 1933, each President has established an advisory committee of the nation’s leading scientists, engineers and health professionals. PCAST makes policy recommendations in the many areas where understanding of science, technology and innovation is key to strengthening the US economy and forming policy benefitting the American people.  For the first time PCAST will be co-chaired by two women: Dr. Frances Arnold, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at California Institute of Technology, Caltech, and Dr. Maria Zuber, VP of Research and Professor of Geophysics at MIT. Dr Frances Arnold was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 2018.

NSTC’s role is to establish national goals for federal science and technology investments and to coordinate science and technology policy across the various Federal research and development agencies. NSTC is chaired by the President, with the Vice President, the Director of OSTP and relevant Cabinet Secretaries and Agent Heads as additional members.

President Biden has five priorities he has tasked his science team with: The pandemic and associated health issues: Building back a better economy with prosperity for all Americans: Science confronting the climate crise: Ensuring US lead in technologies of the future for industry and national security in an internationally competitive landscape: and finally Ensuring the long-term health and trust in science. This is elaborated on in the President´s letter to Dr. Lander, which follows the tradition of President Roosevelt. President Roosevelt’s letter to his science advisor resulted in the report “Science – the Endless Frontier” which formed the basis of the National Science Foundation and set the course of scientific discovery in America for the following 75 years. Dr. Lander with his colleagues were asked to consider five questions in addressing how science and technology could best be applied to benefit the nation’s health, economic prosperity and national security in the coming decades. These questions give an indication of the focus for the administration over the coming years.

The first question targets the pandemic: “What can we learn from the pandemic about what is possible – or what ought to be possible – to address the widest range of needs related to our public health?”

The second question focuses on science and climate change: “How can break throughs in science and technology create powerful new solutions to address climate change – propelling market-driven change, jump-starting economic growth, improving health, and growing jobs, especially in communities that have been left behind?”

The third question emphasizes the importance of US leading role in the world: “How can the United States ensure that it is the world leader in the technologies and industries of the future that will be critical to our economic prosperity and national security, especially in competition with China?”

The fourth question addresses the benefit and prosperity reaching all Americans: “How can we guarantee that the fruits of science and technology are fully shared across America and among all Americans?”

Finally, the fifth question speaks to the longer term vitality of the science and technology field:  “How can we ensure the long-term health of science and technology in our nation?”

With the President`s selection of his science team and making pro-science remarks right from the start, we look forward to follow the administration’s science agenda in the coming years. If this interest you, we welcome you to contact our office to continue the dialogue.

Maria Lönnberg