Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Obama at the National Academy of Sciences

(Photo: The Blue Marble; NASA photo ID #AS17-148-22726, by Gene Cernan, Roland Evans, Jack Schmitt)
Science can't answer every question, and indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be. Science cannot supplant our ethics or our values, our principles or our faith. But science can inform those things and help put those values -- these moral sentiments, that faith -- can put those things to work -- to feed a child, or to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this Earth.
President Obama spoke yesterday (2009.04.27) at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. While he highlighted several specific policies and budgetary priorities, I believe his most significant contribution was, as Woody Allen famously said, "just showing up".

We of the progressive left feel that science has been under attack in America for decades. From James Watt to Rush Limbaugh, the Republicants and their media allies/masters/attack dogs have routinely belittled science, bent science, or just dismissed science. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they derided those of us who believed in science as hopelessly "reality-based".

And now here comes Obama, who shows up at the National Academy and delivers a few thousand well-chosen words (and as Ben Fry says, "did our former President spill that many words for science during eight years in office?"), laying out a 3% of GDP target for R&D, establishing a new ARPA for energy, and talking about the necessity of basic research!

As portions of our reality-based world seem to spin out of control via potential pandemic, peak oil, species loss, ocean dead zones, and the seemingly endlessly accelerating consequences of climate change, it's nice to have someone on board who gets it.