A first look at President-elect Obama's science team.

President-elect Barack Obama officially named his White House science and technology advisors on Saturday during a radio address that was also posted on YouTube. Naming a science team at this point in the transition period is a marked difference in strategy compared with that of George W. Bush, who waited 8 months after being elected before naming his science advisor. Obama stressed the importance of pushing forward alternative energy and genetic research, as well creating an environment that encourages the life-changing scientific breakthroughs that shape our lives. “Our leading minds are hard at work chasing the next big idea,” Obama said.  “The truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources — it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient — especially when it’s inconvenient.” It’s the competent team of scientists below who will have the president’s ear on some of the most critical issues of our time.

John Holdren
Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Co-chair, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
John Holdren is a Harvard University professor of environmental science and public policy sciences as well as professor of environmental policy at the Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is also director of the Woods Hole Research Center, an ecological think tank in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Holdren headed the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international group of eminent, Nobel-winning scientists in 1995, and he won a MacArthur Foundation genius award in 1981 for his arms control work. After receiving a PhD in physics from Stanford University in 1970, Holdren taught at UC Berkeley, focusing on global environmental change, energy technologies and policies, nuclear proliferation, and science policy. Holdren previously served as Bill Clinton’s science and technology advisor. Obama described his appointee as “one of the most passionate and persistent voices of our time about the growing threat of climate change.”
More info: www.ostp.gov

Courtesy Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Harold Varmus
Co-chair, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
“What I’m focused on is the fact that we have some serious problems, and we have a new president who is going to ask scientists to help solve them,” said Nobel-prize laureate Harold Varmus, upon the announcement of his appointment to co-chair. Varmus is the current president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a leading institute in cancer research and therapy. The politically active genetics researcher served as director of the National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 1999, where he spearheaded NIH-wide lectures and symposia to bring scientists together and doubled the agency’s budget during his tenure. Varmus has been an advocate for the importance of basic research and freedom of scientific inquiry, as well as a predominant driving force of the open-access movement, which over the last decade has reshaped scientific publishing. He cofounded the Public Library of Science, a non-profit publisher of peer-reviewed scholarly journals committed to freely accessible scientific literature. Read more about Harold Varmus’s open access contributions in Seed‘s Revolutionary Minds series.
More info: www.ostp.gov/cs/pcast

Courtesy Jane Lubchenco

Jane Lubchenco
Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Jane Lubchenco is currently a professor of Marine Biology and Zoology at Oregon State University. Lubchenco received her PhD from Harvard University in 1975 and has since served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the International Council for Science, and the Ecological Society of America. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Society, and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World. Lubchenco is a recipient of the MacArthur and the Pew Fellowships, eight honorary degrees, and various other awards including the Heinz Award in the Environment, the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest, and the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology. In 2004, she became the first scientist ever to receive the Environmental Law Institute Award. As the Administrator of NOAA, Lubchenco will have considerable influence on climate research during Obama’s presidency. She has criticized Bush’s environmental policies, telling the Associated Press that his administration “has not been respectful of the science.”
More info: www.noaa.gov

Courtesy Harvard Medical School

Eric Lander
Co-chair, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
Biologist Eric Lander, a renowned leader of the Human Genome Project, has been named to Obama’s team of science and technology advisors. “I can’t think of a time when the problems and challenges facing the country—environment and energy, healthcare, education—had more to do with science and technology than they do today,” Lander said in response to the announcement. In addition to his post as a professor of biology at MIT and professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School, Lander is the founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which works to leverage the information encoded within the human genome — including genes, regulatory controls and cellular circuitry — to better understand basic issues in medicine and to find cures for disease. Obama said that he viewed Lander as “a powerful voice in my administration as we seek to find the causes and cures of our most devastating diseases.” Read more about the significance Eric Lander’s human genome work in Seed‘s Revolutionary Minds series.
More info: www.ostp.gov/cs/pcast

Originally published December 22, 2008


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