It was Richard Nixon who got rid of the Presidential Science Advisory Committee during his tenure, which has not been resurrected since. In the 80s, Ronald Reagan embraced the idealistic vision of Star Wars, a pipe dream that did not have a valid scientific basis. In the 90s, Congress got rid of the Office of Technology Assessment which is supposed to provide the country's political leaders with bipartisan scientific advice. Science on the whole in the last twenty five years has been on a downhill path as far as respect for it in political circles has been concerned.
Although George Bush's administration has been the single-largest malefactor of science and all it stands for and in general although Republicans have done more damage to science, all administrations since the 1970s have overall been lax and negligent in supporting science and its essential spirit. As I have written before, the issue goes far beyond the important one of providing funding for basic scientific research. It has to do with trusting unbiased advice that tries to give you a picture of the world as it is, and not how you would like to see it. It has to do with promoting and respecting open-mindedness and true bipartisan debate. Thus science has always stood opposite dogma, a fact that is usually hard to swallow for most politicians who would want to color the world with their own ideological brush. This is a wholly fatalistic attitude because a disrespect for science means an abandonment of informed decision making, eventually a sure path for a country's spiral into regress.
Barack Obama is not good for science because he is a liberal Democrat. He is good for science because he largely stands for all that science traditionally has; open minds, patient and careful thought, forthcomingness and respect in listening to dissenting opinions, a mistrust of blind reliance on authority and a willingness to listen to all sides of the debate before taking an informed decision. Obama also knows he is not perfect and embodies another key aspect of science; the ability to understand one's deficiencies and limitations and seek the best possible advice to overcome them. There is scarce doubt that he will bring knowledgeable science advisors into the White House and that he will take seriously the advice of people with whom he may not agree. At the same time he will weigh all the options and sides and try to take as unbiased a decision as he can. In an age of climate change, evolution, food crises, energy crises, drug resistance and nuclear terrorism, science is going to become an increasingly key and vocal part of the national debate and the future of this country. Obama understands this. Maybe that's why, a few days ago, 76 Nobel Prize winners represented by the great physicist Murray Gell-Mann wrote an open letter to the American people and endorsed Obama as most prudent for science in this country.
The American people need to reclaim their lost preeminence in science and technology and their respect for learning and rationality. They need to reaffirm their place in the world as the land where open minds meet unlimited resources and intellectual capital. The time has come when this land needs to save science from itself. With this in view, anyone who deeply cares about science, reason and objective thought should vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday.
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