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What Obama and Congress Should Do for Science

basic science research
Scientists asked Pres. Obama to fund research that could lead to breakthroughs while also supporting the education of our future innovators. (Image credit: © Olivier Le Queinec |

Amid much wrangling over how to allocate funds out of an increasingly out-of-control federal budget, the editors and writers at eight of the TechMediaNetwork’s sites sought the advice of dozens of researchers, technologists, futurists, analysts and business owners in fields ranging from space and Earth science to health and technological innovation.

We asked one simple question:

If you could ask President Obama and Congress to do one thing related to your field that would be for the good economy and the country, what would it be and why?

The insightful answers are presented in six linked articles on, LiveScience, TechNewsDaily, MyHealthNewsDaily, SecurityNewsDaily, and BusinessNewsDaily, with reporting also provided by the staffs of OurAmazingPlanet and InnovationNewsDaily.

The respondents, ranging from actor Wayne Rogers to tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Esther Dyson, called for investment in science and technology and responsible regulation, but also asked the government to give researchers and businesses the freedom they need to do their work.

At LiveScience, we asked respondents to focus their answers on science. Here are their replies:

Frans de Waal (Image credit: Frans de Waal)

"Instead of just a separation between church and state, what we also need is one between church and education. The administration should become pro-active and have scientists decide what is appropriate material for school curriculums. Instead of allowing laypeople on school boards to proclaim that evolution is 'just a theory,' and keeping it out of school textbooks, ask the scientists, and follow their advice. It will be that no advanced nation can have an educational system in which the main theory underlying biology, and increasingly also medicine, is ignored by teachers, either willingly or under pressure. Obama should stand up to the tyranny of the ignorami."

Frans de Waal Primatologist and Director of the Living Links Center at Emory University in Atlanta

Lawrence Krauss (Image credit: ASU)

"Remember that funding of fundamental research and development in science is responsible for much of our current standard of living, and that our continued health and security, both economic and otherwise, depends on devoting resources not only to innovation and applied technologies, but to funding research that will be the basis of the technological breakthroughs of the next century.  To not invest wisely now, even in hard fiscal times, is penny wise, and pound foolish.  Support for the NSF, and DOE in particular need to be kept at least at current levels, and hopefully increased to make up for the shortfall in funding during the first decade of this century."

Lawrence Krauss Theoretical physicist, Arizona State University

Michael Mann (Image credit: Tom Cogill)

"To take a strong stand in defense of science. We have seen far too many attacks against climate science and climate scientists by powerful vested fossil fuel interests who find the scientific findings inconvenient, and politicians who do their bidding. As I stated last October in a Washington Post op-ed, challenges to policy proposals for how to deal with the climate change threat should be welcome -- a good-faith debate is essential for wise public policymaking. But the politically motivated attacks against the science must stop. They are not good-faith questioning of scientific research. We need both our president, and politicians of conscience on both sides of the isle, to stand up against the antiscientific smears and attacks."

Michael E. Mann Director, Earth System Science Center at Penn State University

Mark Changizi

"Academia and today's funding mechanisms favor the incremental and experimental, but comprehending biology and the brain will require tremendous enigmatic theoretical innovations. The problem is this: One cannot generally know one has made a theoretical breakthrough until one has made it, at which point there is nothing left to propose to do in a grant application. The best argument that a scientist is capable of theoretical innovation is that he or she already has done so, and so a step in the right direction would be to, in more cases, fund the scientist, not the proposal."

Mark Changizi Neurobiologist, Director of Human Cognition, Co-founder 2AI Labs

Michael Reece

"I'd like to see energy devoted to ensuring completely free and unrestricted access to the Internet by every person in every place in the United States. Not only would this facilitate our ability to better use technology for research purposes, but scientists from every discipline could harness the power of the Internet to deliver critically needed interventions and information to people in new ways that help to reduce the disparities in health across various segments of our country."

Michael Reece Director, Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University

Eugenie Scott, NCSE (Image credit: NCSE)

"De-politicize science--and take it more seriously. The Obama administration has firmly (and publicly) supported policy based on science, not politics. I'd challenge Congress to do the same by honoring the scientific expertise of civil servants in science-related governmental agencies, and letting them do their work without interference."

Eugenie C. Scott Executive Director, National Center for Science Education

Laura Wattenberg

"I'd like to see a new focus on teaching probability and statistics in our schools, both in math classes and across disciplines. We live in a stats-drenched world, with more data than ever to guide us in every realm from climate change to...well, baby names. But for too many people, statistics are mysterious and impenetrable. That leaves us, as a society, unable to act on the revelations science offers."

Laura Wattenberg Author, "The Baby Name Wizard" (Three Rivers Press, 2005); creator of the website

"Will our future still include the remarkably rich diversity of species in today's "Tree of Life" and the habitats that support them, or a starker remnant with

John Flynn, AMNH

few remaining branches and twigs surviving in a less hospitable landscape?  Today's confluence of accelerating changes occurring across our planet and explosive growth in technologies and expertise provides an unprecedented opportunity to understand the entire network of interrelationships among species ("Tree of Life") and interactions between organisms and environments throughout Earth history. Essential knowledge for reconstructing our past, predicting dynamics of and responses to future changes, and preserving ecosystem functions and species diversity will arise from supporting existing treasure-troves of scientific information, such as museum repositories and comprehensive scientific databases, as well as ambitious expeditionary surveys to build new collections and data documenting the distribution and diversity of life, melding innovative genomic and anatomical research to reconstruct life history, and fostering intensive and long-term biological and earth system studies on land, in the oceans, and from space."

John Flynn Paleontologist, American Museum of Natural History

"My central message, based on observations on the intense competitiveness and rising excellence of many foreign university systems, is that we need to encourage the best and brightest of our students to pursue careers in research and provide them with all the support they need. I was astonished to learn recently that while our best universities receive at most a few tens of thousands of applications, Beijing University receives 11 million applications per year! With such passion for education and excellence in the brightest students in foreign countries, America is at risk of falling behind in our most important asset: innovation."

Robert Hazen Senior Staff Scientist, Deep Carbon Observatory; Carnegie Institution of Washington; Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University

"I would ask the president and congress to think of their own states and their own children (and grandchildren) before they relegate the U.S. to a 'follower' position in all areas of biomedical sciences. Scientists and physician scientists have taken themselves out of the immediate marketplace to pursue long-term research that is necessary for its translation to effective and eventually economic therapies. Many such scientists are like me, hailing from Montana, where I worked in an independent research lab from high school on, and it is these widespread research labs that give the same opportunities to our children. When biomedical research budgets are cut, the basis for America's leadership position will go away, and the scientists who do research, who translate the research to medicine, and who train the next generation to follow will be gone."

Irving Weissman Director, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine

Helen Fox (Image credit: World Wildlife Fund)

"We need the President and the Congress to protect our investments in the future by not allowing the significant rollbacks in environmental protections proposed in the recently passed House budget legislation to go forward.  I want my kids to breathe clean air, drink clean water and enjoy the outdoors, whether it’s a local park or Yellowstone National Park. I want to tell my kids that they share a world with wild sharks, tigers, and elephants. During this budget process, what will you do to ensure this future for your children and mine?"

Helen Fox Senior Marine Scientist, World Wildlife Fund

Samantha (Mandy) Joye

"The U.S. population will not take global climate change seriously until the leadership in Washington embraces it and helps the people understand what is going on and what the future climate scenarios look like.  The higher educational system can help here (and we will) but government leadership -- particularly Presidential leadership -- is essential to relay the urgency of the situation we now find ourselves in to the American people. The partisan bickering over global climate change and environmental sustainability needs to stop.  We have a choice:  we can protect and sustain the Earth that provides for us or we can continue to abuse it and potentially destroy its habitability. Every citizen of this country needs to understand that each of us is responsible for sustaining the Earth; each of us contributes to global change.  Only through changing our collective behavior - top to bottom - will we have a chance to move the Earth's trajectory back towards a sustainable one."  

Samantha Joye Biogeochemist/Oceanographer, University of Georgia

Nicolas Gutierrez (Image credit: University of Washington)

"To alleviate immigration and permanence restrictions on non-citizens and/or non-residents graduates from U.S. universities. The U.S. spends a significant amount of resources in getting scientists from all over the world educated in top universities. However, once graduated, permanence in the country is restrained by laws and regulations, as well as federal government jobs restricted to U.S. citizens. As an example, while many programs in fishery sciences around the country have a significant proportion of international graduate students under U.S. scholarships and fellowships, graduates are not allow to work at the National Marine Fisheries Services (NOAA). This is counter-intuitive and inefficient, especially since NOAA has forecasted a shortage of fishery scientists in the near future."

Nicolas Gutiérrez Doctoral student, fisheries management, University of Washington

Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution of Washington (Image credit: Carnegie Institution of Washington)

"The most important thing that President Obama can do is set out the important inspirational goal of developing and deploying new 21st-century energy and transportation systems that do not rely on using the atmosphere as a waste dump. Of course, he must then work to provide the funding needed to achieve that goal. Doing this would revitalize science and engineering in this country, while inspiring many schoolchildren to develop the mathematical and scientific skills that can enable them to make real contributions to this most important enterprise, and more broadly contribute to the economic revitalization of our country."

Ken Caldeira Senior scientist, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University

"I'd love to see a program in which government research funding is granted based in part on the grantee offering paid (summer) internship programs for

Dr. Peter Wetzel

kids in middle and high school, used to help recruit the next generation of science pioneers. Nearly every project I've ever been part of can use this kind of enthusiastic help. The kids are eager learners and are thrilled to be part of the real, live process of scientific discovery."

Peter Wetzel Retired NASA Earth Scientist

"There is a paucity of high-risk, potentially high-return funding from the Federal government and risk-taking scientists are often penalized. Encouraging smart risk-taking can produce radical new findings.  In addition, the science of human flourish has been largely ignored and yet the pursuit of happiness is everyone's goal and is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence; its importance demands greater government focus."

Paul Zak Director, Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University

Kevin Trenberth

"Establish a national climate service that is soundly based on observations and real-time analysis to inform the public and decision makers on what is happening and why, and what it means for the future. There is a basis for this within NOAA except the effort is grossly underfunded and the observational and informational basis is inadequate. The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] activity is also a basis for this but is not real time and is quite inadequate because it does not provide the best predictions. Information should come out prominently every day.  This will seriously undermine the deniers and build a strong base for further actions."

Kevin Trenberth Climate scientist, National Corporation for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

Dan Satterfield, chief meteorologist. (Image credit: D. Satterfield)

"Science is a tiny part of the massive federal budget, so I would ask to give science funding a major boost.  The importance of technology to the nation, and the severe threat posed by climate change demand a complete reappraisal of the funding levels. Included in the boost should be funding to emphasize critical thinking skills and modernize the science curriculum for high school students."

Dan Satterfield Chief Meteorologist, WHNT TV in Huntsville, Ala.

Erik W. Klemetti (Image credit: Erik W. Klemetti, Denison University)

"Bring the U.S. Geological Survey back to its roots. The Survey has moved away from its fundamental mission: the mapping and characterizing of the bedrock and surface geology of the country. This is vital for not only understanding the multitude of geologic hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes and floods that face the country, but also for shepherding our mineral resources. The USGS is the only government agency whose sole mission is to understand the country's geology and they shouldn't duplicate the work of other agencies, but rather focus on field geology by hiring geologists who understand the rocks and hazards of the country."

Erik Klemetti Geoscientist, Denison University and author of Big Think's Eruptions Blog

See more responses to the same question in other fields:

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