Monday, March 9, 2009

A Very Good Day for Science: President Obama and Stem Cell Research

During his inauguration, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, pledged to restore science to its rightful place in society. Specifically, he stated

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do."

Today, he took key steps in that direction. In the presence of a mixed audience comprised of patients, caregivers, family members, health care workers, scientists, policy advocates, government officials he issued an Executive Order, REMOVING BARRIERS TO RESPONSIBLE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH INVOLVING HUMAN STEM CELLS. By taking this action, scientists who use embryonic stem cells to conduct research will once again be able to apply for and receive government funded research - something that is essential to run costly scientific projects at the molecular/cellular level. Treatments and possible cures for conditions including diabetes,heart disease, Parkinsons, and others, will be furthered by this line of scientific inquiry. It is a great day for science indeed.

At the same time, President Obama took another action to put scientific research back on track in this country. He issued an official Memorandum charging the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to draw up recommendations relating to scientific integrity and transparency. Noting that the public must be able to trust the results of scientific inquiry and, further, that the government should not supress the results of scientific studies, he made it abundantly clear that his administration would rely upon scientific studies in developing policies relating to such areas as the environment, health and national security. He further outlined guiding principles for how the recommendations relating to scientific integrity should be implemented by the various departments and agencies of the Executive branch of our government. I encourage everyone to read his entire memorandum posted on the White House web site at

It's essential that all of us - scientists and general public alike - commit to becoming (and remaining) engaged in our government. During George W. Bush's administration, serious blows to science, scientific integrity and policies related to climate change, wildlife conservation, birth control and diseases, were incurred in ways that may have, in at least some instances, cause irreparable harm. I am especially grateful to the work of the Union of Concerned Scientists for their efforts to expose the egregious actions taken to cover up or - in some instances - rewrite scientific investigations by members of the Bush administration. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit organisation, has developed standards relating to scientific integrity that are readily available on its web site.

We must stay involved and informed; for the sake of our country and indeed, the rest of the world, we must never again allow an anti-science agenda to control our government and its policies. It is incumbant on all of us to work to educate others about science and how scientific findings can inform the policies of our society and help us in working toward the greatest good for all.

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