President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Broad Institute mathematician and geneticist Eric Lander to serve as the Presidential Science Advisor and to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. For the first time in history, the science advisor will be a cabinet-level position.
“Elevating this role to membership in the President’s Cabinet clearly signals the administration’s intent to involve scientific expertise in every policy discussion,” Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says in a statement.
Biden has also chosen Nobel Prize-winning chemical engineer Frances Arnold to cochair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Lander will also serves as cochair of PCAST. The third cochair will be Maria Zuber, a geophysicist and vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
We need to reestablish the trust of the American people in science.
Frances Arnold, a cochair pick for Joe Biden’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
Arnold, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, is excited to play a part in the new administration. “We have to reestablish the importance of science in policymaking, in decision making across the government. We need to reestablish the trust of the American people in science,” Arnold says. “I think that PCAST can play a beneficial role in that.”
Biden has said his administration will focus on climate change, social and racial justice, the economy, and the COVID-19 pandemic. “Science is important in every single one of those,” she says. “Our role will be to look at science through that lens and decide what we can do to help.”
PCAST has traditionally provided important advice directly to the US president, going back to 1990. The Donald J. Trump administration didn’t establish the advisory group for his administration until October 2019, more than 2 years after he took office.
Arnold has been working with Biden’s transition team to help identify scientists for roles in the administration. She says her main job now is to help choose PCAST’s additional members and to get to work setting a scientific agenda for the group. Climate change will clearly be one of PCAST’s most important efforts as science is at the heart of everything from mitigating the effects of climate change to moving to a carbon-free society, Arnold says.
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Reviving the damaged reputation of US science abroad and making sure international students want to study in the US is another important goal for Arnold. “The vibrancy of our science enterprise rests on our remarkable ability to pull in the best brains from all over the world,” she says. “Even if they go back to their own countries, we develop collaborations. Even better, some of those best brains stay here and contribute to our economy and to moving science forward.”
Investing in the US scientific workforce is also important, Arnold says. She especially wants to look at ways to support scientists from groups underrepresented in the sciences. “I’m personally dedicated to supporting women, people of color, and everybody who wants to do science,” she says. “We need all those good brains.”
Despite the assault on science during the last 4 years, research funding has held surprisingly steady during the Trump administration, Arnold says, because science has support from both sides of the political aisle. And science could always use more money.
The LC Side of “Do More with Less”
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So Arnold wants to focus on fixing some the damage that has been done to science over the last four years, when many government scientists quit. Arnold encourages young people to take those jobs.
“We lost so many good people,” Arnold says. “I’d love to see really good people come back and work in national laboratories and government agencies, knowing that science will be treated with respect.”