During the campaign, Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed to take Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump from his seat Bring science back to the White House, the federal government and the nation after years of president’s attacks and denials, neglect and disorder.
As president-elect, he got off to a quick start in January by appointing Eric S. Lander, a top biologist, as his scientific advisor. He also made the job to a cabinet-level position that he called the levy Part of his effort “To revitalize our national science and technology strategy”.
In theory, the expanded position of Dr. Make Lander one of the most influential scientists in American history.
But his Senate confirmation hearing has been postponed for three months. finally set to Thursday.
The delay, to Politico, arose in part from questions about his meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who had crept into the scientific elite despite a 2008 conviction that classified him as a sex offender. Dr. Lander met Mr. Epstein twice at fundraisers in 2012 but denied having received any funding or relationship with Mr. Epstein, who was later charged with federal sex trafficking and committed suicide in prison in 2019.
The long delay in his Senate confirmation has raised concerns that the survey of Dr. Lander by the Biden government is more symbolic than content – it is more about creating the appearance of strong federal support for the science enterprise than working to achieve a productive reality.
Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has interviewed and profiled scientific adviser to the President, recently noted that one of President Biden’s key scientific agendas, climate policy, has moved swiftly without the help of a White House science advisor.
“Does Biden give him a lot of work?” he asked for Dr. Lander’s role. “Or is there actually an insurance portfolio?”
Likewise, Mr Biden’s first proposed federal budget, presented on April 9, received no public confirmation from the President’s scientific advisor, but it did seeks large increases in financing with almost every science agency.
Mr. Biden’s science post advocate and his late start has raised a number of questions: What are the White House science advisors actually doing? What you should do? Are some more successful than others, and if so, why? Do they ever play a significant role in Washington’s budget wars? Does Mr. Biden’s approach have echoes in the story?
The American public received few answers to such questions during Mr. Trump’s tenure. He left the position blank for the first two years of his tenure – by far the longest such post since Congress in 1976, when the modern version of the advisory post and office was established in the White House. Under public pressure, Mr. Trump filled in the opening in early 2019 Kelvin Droegemeier, an Oklahoma meteorologist, who held back. Critics mocked Mr. Trump’s neglect of this position and the open positions in other academic expert positions across the executive branch.
While the responsibilities of scientists in the federal labor force are usually defined in great detail, every scientific advisor to the President comes to his job with a blank board Shobita Parthasarathy, Director of the Science, Technology, and Public Order Program at the University of Michigan.
“You don’t have a clear portfolio,” she said. “You have a lot of flexibility.”
The Lack of set responsibilities means that as early as 1951, and President Harry S. Truman – the first to bring a formal science advisor to the White House – the adjutants had the leeway to assume a variety of roles, including those far removed from science.
“We have the image of a wise person standing behind the president, whispering in his ear and imparting knowledge,” said Dr. Pielke. “The reality is that the science advisor is a resource for the White House and the President to do with what they see fit.”
Dr. Pielke argued that Mr. Biden is genuinely interested in quickly rebuilding the credibility of the position and building public confidence in the federal know-how. “There’s a lot to like,” he said.
However, history shows that even good beginnings in the world of scientific advice to the president are no guarantee that the appointment will end on a high level.
“Anyone who enters science consulting without significant policy experience faces some gross shocks,” said Edward E. David Jr., science advisor to President Richard M. Nixon. said in a conversation long after his bloody tenure. He passed away in 2017.
One day in 1970, Mr. Nixon ordered Dr. David, all federal research grants for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. David’s alma mater, cut off. At the time it was received more than $ 100 million a year.
The reason? The President of the United States had found the school president’s political views intolerable.
“I just sat there amazed,” recalled Dr. David. Back in his office, the phone rang. It was John Ehrlichman, one of Mr. Nixon’s trusted helpers.
“Ed, my advice is not to do anything,” he recalled Mr. Ehrlichman. The sensitive subject soon disappeared.
1973, shortly after Dr. David had resigned, Mr. Nixon eliminated the fiefdom. The president had Reportedly come to see the advisor as a science lobbyist. After Mr. Nixon stepped down, Congress entered to reinstate both the advisory post and its governing body, renaming it the White House Science and Technology Policy Office.
Some analysts argue that the position has become more influential in line with academic achievements and advances. However, others say the stature of the job has declined as science has become more specialized and advisory work has increasingly focused on narrow topics that are unlikely to interest the president. Still others believe that so many specialists are now informing the federal government that a White House chief scientist has become superfluous.
But the steps taken by Mr Biden, he added in an interview, were now ready to increase the importance and potential of the post. “For Democrats,” he said, “science and politics are converging, so it is wise to raise the status of science.” It’s good politics. “
The scientific community tends to view presidential advisers as effective science budget activists. Not like that, Dr. Sarewitz has argued. He sees the federal budget for science well done over the decades, regardless of what the president’s science advisors have endorsed or promoted.
Neal F. Lane, a physicist who served as scientific advisor to President Bill Clinton, argued the post is more important today than ever because its resident offers a broad perspective on what can best serve the nation and the world.
“Only the science advisor can be the integrator of all these complex issues and the broker who helps the president understand the game between the agencies,” he said in an interview.
The moment is right, added Dr. Lane added. Disasters like the war, the Kennedy assassination, and the 2001 terrorist attacks could become turning points in the revitalization. He added that the coronavirus pandemic is also a time in American history when “big changes can take place”.
He hoped that Mr Biden would be able to bring up topics such as energy, climate change and pandemic preparedness.
As for the federal budget, Dr. Lane, who was on the line National Science Foundation Before becoming Clinton’s scientific advisor from 1998 to 2001, he said from personal experience that the post could have a modest impact, but it would reset the country’s scientific development. His own tenure, he said, saw Funding increase for the natural sciences, including physics, math, and engineering.
Part of his own influence, said Dr. Lane, came from personal relationships in the White House. For example, he met the powerful director of the Office of Management and Budget who set the finances of the administration while he was dining at the White House Mess.
According to analysts, the advisory post becomes most influential when the scientific advisors are closely coordinated with the president’s agendas. However, a commander in chief’s goals may not coincide with those of the scientific establishment, and any influence that comes from being close to the president can prove to be quite narrow.
George A. Keyworth II was a physicist from Los Alamos – the birthplace of the atomic bomb in New Mexico. In Washington, as a scientific advisor to Ronald Reagan, he strongly supported the president’s vision of the missile defense plan known as the Star Wars.
Dr. Pielke of the University of Colorado said the controversial topic was Dr. Keyworths become business card in official Washington. “It was Star Wars,” he said. “That’s it.” Despite intense lobbying, the president’s call for weapons in space met with fierce opposition from experts and Congress, and the costly effort never got beyond the research phase.
Political analysts say Mr. Biden went out of his way to help Dr. Lander – a geneticist and President of the Broad Institute, an advanced biology center run by Harvard University and M.I.T.
January 15th, Mr. Biden made a letter public with marching orders for Dr. Lander, to see if science can help “communities left behind” and “ensure that Americans of all backgrounds” are involved in the creation of science and secure its rewards.
Dr. Parthasarathy said Mr Biden’s approach was unusual, both as a public letter and as a request to science to have a social conscience. In time, she added, the agenda could change both the advisor’s office and the nation.
“We are in a moment” where science has the potential to make a difference on issues of social justice and inequality, she said. “I know my students are increasingly concerned about these questions, and I think they are simple scientists too,” added Dr. Parthasarathy added. “If there has ever been a time to really focus on her, it is now.”