Our world is more complex, dynamic, and interdependent than at any time in recent history. Financial markets are in turmoil, geopolitical conflicts abound, and our pale blue dot is in serious peril. Yet these are also times for great optimism — about what can be known and what can be accomplished, about our potential to discover and innovate. To navigate this new reality, to realize opportunity within this massive change, we need a new approach to governance and problem solving; we need a new way of looking at the world and a new set of values founded on the conviction that knowledge is good; and we need leaders who have the courage and wisdom to change their mind in the face of new evidence. Today we stand at an inflection point in modern history, and America, still inarguably and essentially the world’s beacon, will chart the way forward next Tuesday. At this critical moment, we offer an endorsement and a perspective that we hope informs the decision of our American readers.
It is abundantly evident that science can refuel economic growth, address the energy and climate challenge, and help restore America’s soft power around the world. President Bush dismissed this potential, turned the very act of defying science into an art, and in so doing diminished US competitiveness and disenfranchised the country’s source of innovation. His administration not only disregarded evidence time and time again but also rejected and debased the very enterprise that offered that evidence. Renewing the promise of science starts first and foremost with restoring scientific integrity to government.
Sen. Obama’s pledged stance on science resonates with us. He has vowed to restore integrity to the role of science advisor by reestablishing the senior status of the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and more broadly, by surrounding himself with individuals with exemplary scientific credentials; his selection of Dr. Harold Varmus as the campaign’s science advisor was a very promising and laudable step in that direction. Sen. Obama understands that basic research is fundamental to how scientific advances are made. He sees the importance of expanding funding for “high-risk, high-return” work, strengthening tax policy to spur R&D, and encouraging the careers of young scientists who pursue innovative lines of thinking. He has offered a comprehensive plan to reinvigorate math and science education, and he recognizes the vital importance of re-architecting nationwide science literacy for these times. His positions on topics ranging from agriculture, alternative energy, and medical research to internet policy, patent law, and space are more robust and ultimately more in line with scientific consensus than those of Sen. McCain. These are important policy positions, and they reflect Sen. Obama’s appreciation of the need to invest in science and science education as a precondition for growth and prosperity in the 21st century. We recognize, however, that these are not the issues that most voters will be thinking about when they cast their ballot.
Far more important is this: Science is a way of governing, not just something to be governed. Science offers a methodology and philosophy rooted in evidence, kept in check by persistent inquiry, and bounded by the constraints of a self-critical and rigorous method. Science is a lens through which we can and should visualize and solve complex problems, organize government and multilateral bodies, establish international alliances, inspire national pride, restore positive feelings about America around the globe, embolden democracy, and ultimately, lead the world. More than anything, what this lens offers the next administration is a limitless capacity to handle all that comes its way, no matter how complex or unanticipated.
Sen. Obama’s embrace of transparency and evidence-based decision-making, his intelligence and curiosity echo this new way of looking at the world. And that is what we should be weighing in the voting booth. For his positions and, even more, for his way of coming to them, we endorse Barack Obama for President of the United States.
Originally published October 29, 2008