A meteorologist named Kelvin Droegemeier, whose main concern was cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, wasn’t appointed to the Office of Science Policy and Technology (OSTP) by Donald Trump until over one and a half years into his presidency. President Joe Biden appointed his new OSTP leader before his inauguration. Since 1976 when the OSTP was created, only four heads have ever been appointed before the official inauguration date.
This rush to appoint was brought on by Biden’s statement where he said he would reestablish scientific integrity by appointing Dr. Eric Lander to head the OSTP and then appoint co-chairs — the first women ever to co-chair, in fact — to head the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Nobel laureate Frances Arnold, a bioengineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and Maria Zuber, a geophysicist at MIT, will co-chair PCAST under Biden.
A little about Lander
Lander will be the first biologist to run the OSTP. He was a key figure in the Human Genome Project and is the president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Dr. Lander is awaiting Senate confirmation at the moment, but is slated to not only lead the OSTP but to act as Presidential Science Advisor to Biden: “Biden further elevates the role of science within the White House by designating the Presidential Science Advisor as a member of the Cabinet for the first time in history,” Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences wrote.
So, what can we expect from this administration, if politicians are to be taken at their word? In an official White House statement, it was related that: “the PCAST– co-chaired by the President’s Science Advisor – will advise the President on policy that affects science, technology, and innovation.” President Biden underscored the importance of science in advancing his top priorities: addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice…and climate change.
COVID vaccine-related science is one of Biden’s top priorities. In a speech, he remarked, “I’ve said before: This is a wartime effort. When I say — when I say that, people ask, ‘Wartime?’ I say, ‘Yeah, more than 400,000 Americans have already died…this is a wartime undertaking; it’s not hyperbole.’”
Will the humanities have monies for their research? Biden appointed Kelsey Coates, Chief of Staff, to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). It may come as no surprise that during the Obama administration, Coates was the Senior Associate Research Director in the White House. Her last appointment was as the Chief of Staff at a nonprofit that conducted public interest investigations into climate denialism, public health disinformation and violent extremism.
While Trump tried to (unsuccessfully) cut spending for the NEH under the title “Stopping Wasteful and Unnecessary Spending,” funding for the organization seems to be safe under the Biden/Harris presidency.
We’re heading back into the Paris Agreement. After Trump exited in 2019, it was widely known that it would only take one year for a new president to re-enter the formal accord. In a New York Times piece, Biden is quoted as saying: “We’re going to combat climate change in a way we have not before,” regarding this decision.
What does the future hold?
A new spring seems to be emerging, one in which Biden’s mantra that facts and science will be held in the forefront of his presidency is resoundingly heard.
“Science will always be at the forefront of my administration,” said @JoeBiden on Twitter.
Only time will tell if these experts he has appointed will turn the tide in favor of funding the sciences.