On the way to running, Joseph R. Biden Jr has vowed to oust Donald J. Trump and bring science back to the White House, the federal and national government after years of being attacked and rejected by the president. and confusion.
As president-elect, he got off to a quick start in January by nominating Eric S. Lander, a leading biologist, as his scientific advisor. He also made the job a cabinet-level position, calling its elevation as part of his effort to “revitalize our national science and technology strategy”.
In theory, the advanced essay could put Dr. Lander one of the most influential scientists in US history.
But his Senate confirmation hearing was delayed for three months, finally set for Thursday.
According to Politico, the delay was partly due to questions about his meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who hinted at himself in the scientific world despite the 2008 verdict that he was guilty of a crime. sexual offense. Dr. Lander met with Mr. Epstein at fundraising events twice in 2012 but refused to accept any sponsorship or had any relationship with Mr. Epstein, who was subsequently charged with trafficking. selling federal sex and suicide in prison in 2019.
Prolonged delays in his Senate confirmation have led to concerns that the Biden administration’s upholding Dr. Lander’s role as symbolic rather than substantive – is to create support. Strong federalism for scientific business is rather than working to achieve an effective practice.
Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who interviewed and profiled the president’s scientific aides, recently noted that one of the President’s top science programs Biden, climate policy, has moved forward quickly without any help from the White House science department. adviser.
“Is Biden giving him busy work?” he asked about Dr. Lander’s role. “Or is there really a policy catalog?”
Likewise, Mr. Biden’s first proposed federal budget, announced on April 9, did not receive public approval from the president’s scientific adviser but is still looking for a boost. funding is large in almost every scientific institution.
Mr. Biden’s championship in the science paper and its punctual beginning raises a number of questions: What do the White House science advisers really do? What should they do? Some people are more successful than others and, if so, why? Have they ever played a key role in Washington’s budget war? Has Mr. Biden’s approach resonated in history?
The American public has had very few answers to such questions during Mr. Trump’s tenure. He vacated his post during his first two years in office – by far the longest vacancy since Congress in 1976 founded the modern version of its advisory body and its White House office. Under public pressure, Mr. Trump filled the opening in early 2019 with Kelvin Droegemeier, an Oklahoma meteorologist who kept a low profile. Critics criticized Mr. Trump’s neglect of the position and the vacancy of other scientific expert positions in the executive branch.
But while scientists in the federal workforce often have their responsibilities defined in great detail, each president’s scientific adviser starts work for just a blank board, according to Shobita. Parthasarathy, director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy program at the University of Michigan.
“They don’t have a clear portfolio,” she said. “They have a lot of flexibility.”
The lack of responsibilities means that aides since 1951 and President Harry S. Truman – the first to bring a full-fledged scientific advisor to the White House – have been able to take on various roles. , including roles far from science.
“We have the image of a wise man standing behind the president, whispering in his ear, imparting knowledge,” said Dr. Pielke. “In fact, the scientific advisor is a resource for the White House and the president as they see fit.”
Dr. Pielke argued that Mr. Biden sincerely wanted to quickly rebuild the credibility of the post and raise public trust in federal know-how. “There are a lot of things we like,” he said.
But history shows that even a good start in the world of presidential science consulting is no guarantee that the appointment will end well.
Edward E. David Jr., President Richard M. Nixon’s scientific advisor, said in a speech long after his term. He died in 2017.
One day in the year 1970, Mr. Nixon ordered Dr. David to cut all federal research funding for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. David’s alma mater. At that time, it received over 100 million dollars a year.
Reason? The President of the United States finds the school president’s political stance intolerable.
“I just sat there dumbfounded,” recalls Dr. David. Back in his office, the phone rings. It was John Ehrlichman, one of Mr. Nixon’s trusted aides.
“Ed, my advice is not to do anything,” he recalled Mr. Ehrlichman’s words. The stinging nettle problem quickly disappeared.
In 1973, shortly after Dr. David quit his job, Mr. Nixon removed the manor. The president is said to have met with the counselor as a science lobbyist. After Mr. Nixon left office, Congress proceeded to restore both its advisory body and its administrative body, renaming it the White House Science and Technology Policy Office.
Some analysts believe that this position is increasingly influential thanks to scientific feats and advances. But others say that the stature of the job has declined as science becomes more specialized and that consulting work increasingly focuses on narrow topics incapable of attracting the interest of the president. Others still argue that so many experts have now informed the federal government that a key White House scientist has become redundant.
But Mr. Biden’s moves, he added in an interview, are now poised to elevate the post’s significance and ability to influence. “For Democrats,” science and politics are converging right now, so it’s wise to elevate science, “he said. It is good politics ”.
The scientific community tends to see presidential advisers as effective advocates for the science budget. Not so, Dr. Sarewitz argued. The federal budget for science has been working well for decades, he found, regardless of what the president’s scientific advisers endorse or promote.
Neal F. Lane, a physicist who served as President Bill Clinton’s scientific advisor, argues that today’s post is more important than ever because its poster provides a broad perspective on what is available. support for the country and the world best.
“Only a scientific advisor can integrate all these complex matters and the broker who helps the president understand how the inter-agency play,” he said in an interview.
This timing is a good thing, added Dr. Lane. Catastrophes like war, Kennedy’s assassination and the 2001 terrorist attacks could turn out to be turning points for a revival, he said. He also added that the coronavirus pandemic is a period in US history when “big changes are likely”.
His hope, he said, is that Mr. Biden will be successful in raising issues such as energy, climate change and pandemic preparedness.
As for the federal budget, Dr. Lane, who headed the National Science Foundation prior to becoming Mr. Clinton’s scientific advisor between 1998 and 2001, says his own experience suggests the article could created modest but nonetheless effects that reset the nation’s scientific trajectory. His tenure, he said, saw an increase in funding for the physical sciences, including physics, mathematics, and engineering.
Part of his own influence, Dr. Lane said, stems from his personal relationships at the White House. For example, he gets acquainted with the powerful director of the Office of Management and Budget, the government’s financial establishment, while having dinner at the Mess White House.
Analysts say the consultation becomes most influential when scientific aides fit closely to the presidential agendas. But the commander-in-chief’s goals may not be consistent with the goals of the science base, and any influence due to the closeness to the president may appear quite narrow.
George A. Keyworth II is a physicist from Los Alamos – the birthplace of the atomic bomb in New Mexico. In Washington, as scientific advisor to Ronald Reagan, he strongly supported the president’s vision of an anti-missile plan known as Star Wars.
The controversial issue has become the official Dr. Keyworth business card in Washington, said Dr. Pielke of the University of Colorado. “It’s Star Wars,” he said. “That is so that.” Despite fierce lobbying, the president’s call for weapons in space has attracted stiff opposition from experts and Congress, and the costly effort never goes beyond the research phase. assist.
Policy analysts say Mr. Biden has been trying to impart his core benefits to Dr. Lander – a geneticist and president of the Broad Institute, a center for advanced biology led by the University. Executive Harvard and MIT.
On January 15, Mr. Biden released a letter with the order of marching to Dr. Lander to examine whether science could help “communities left behind” and “ensure that Americans belong to all ingredients ”are engaged in the creation of science as well as guaranteeing its rewards.
Dr. Parthasarathy argues that Mr. Biden’s approach is unusual both in terms of a public letter and that requires science to have a social conscience. Over time, the agenda could change both the advisory office and the country, she added.
“We are at a time,” she said, where science has the potential to make a difference on issues of social justice and inequality. Dr. Parthasarathy added: “I know my students are becoming increasingly interested in these questions and think that the same is the case with ratings and profile scientists. “If ever there was time to really focus on them, now is that.”