Obama Promises National Tech Officer and a Space Advisor to the President Want to know what presidential candidate Barack Obama will do to make the U.S. a great nation for science again? Among other changes, he promises to create a position of "chief technology officer" for the country, and to recreate a space advisory council that reports directly to the president. In addition, he claims the rDNA Advisory Committee will have his administration's ear. Obama discussed his science policies in detail for Science Debate 2008, a group of thousands of scientists, engineers, and science-oriented groups like the AAAS, who are working to keep the public educated about presidential candidates' science policies. Here are the highlights. Obama promises that the space council will report directly to the president, meaning this group will have direct access to him during policy decisions about space and the skies. He said:
Between 1958 and 1973, the National Aeronautics and Space Council oversaw the entire space arena for four presidents; the Council was briefly revived from 1989 to 1992. I will re-establish this Council reporting to the president. It will oversee and coordinate civilian, military, commercial, and national security space activities.
In an interesting move, Obama promises to create a "Chief Technology Officer" position — unclear where, or what kind of power the appointee will have. Will this be a cabinet position? Will the CTO actually be able to do anything helpful if he or she is merely doing "interagency" liason stuff? Here's Obama's description of the job, which sounds pretty thankless:
The nation's first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) [will] ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will lead an interagency effort on best-in-class technologies, sharing of best practices, and safeguarding of our networks;
One of the best pieces of news I've heard about Obama is that he plans to recreate the post of science advisor to the president, a position that disappeared during the Bush Administration. Obama says:
[I will] strengthen the role of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) by appointing experts who are charged to provide independent advice on critical issues of science and technology. The PCAST will once again be advisory to the president.
And here's a weird one. Broadband internet for everybody? A router in every pot? He says:
My proposals for providing broadband Internet connections for all Americans across the country will help ensure that more students are able to bolster their [science, technology, engineering and math] achievement.
Really? How is he going to provide internet connections for "all Americans"? Is he talking about the free wifi at McDonalds? Obama is still claiming he supports environmentally-friendly energy and emissions-reduction:
Specifically, I will implement a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. I will start reducing emissions immediately by establishing strong annual reduction targets with an intermediate goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
It's great that Obama says that he supports nuclear energy. Also:
I will also work closely with utilities to introduce a digital smart grid that can optimize the overall efficiency of the nation's electric utility system, by managing demand and making effective use of renewable energy and energy storage.
What the hell is a "digital smart grid"? Maybe Obama should have consulted with his CTO before using terms like "digital smart grid." I love Obama's weirdly wonky comments about rDNA. Did the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee help him with this one? He says:
The promise of rDNA is its ability to sidestep potentially harmful intermediaries that could have a pathogenic effect. Some forms of gene therapy-replacing faulty genes with functional copies-in comparison have encountered safety issues that arise from how the functional gene is delivered. As a result, the NIH established the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, which now provides advice and guidance on human gene therapy as well as other ethical concerns or potential abuse of rDNA technology. Until we are equipped to ascertain the safety of such methods, I will continue to support the activities and recommendations of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee.
Also, not surprisingly, Obama will lift the ban on federal funding for most stem cell research:
As president, I will lift the current administration's ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight . . . I believe that it is ethical to use these extra embryos for research that could save lives when they are freely donated for that express purpose.
No word on his policies about clone armies. Republican candidate John McCain has promised to answer Science Debate 2008's questions too, so look out for that soon. Image via SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images. Science Debate 2008 [via Wired]