Sunday, February 15, 2009
Opening on the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, the 175th conference of the world’s largest science society is likely to have a celebratory feel to it.
There was indeed a palpable buzz yesterday in Chicago hotels where the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is holding its annual meeting. The real excitement, however, has had much less to do with Darwin than with the most famous former resident of America’s second city — Barack Obama.
This AAAS meeting has been a coming-out party for American scientists after eight years in which they have felt marginalized and ignored. Few sections of American society found George W. Bush’s presidency quite as dispiriting as its scientists. From climate change to stem-cell research, the White House was at odds with researchers over virtually all the issues they most cared about.
Bush, was arguably the most anti-science president in history.
President Obama has changed all that. With an extra $65 billion promised for energy and research in his $790 billion dollar economic stimulus package and with new policies on global warming and stem cells, as well as a list of appointments that includes some of the most glittering names in American science, Obama transformed the mood of the nation’s laboratories and the mood of this conference.
The dark ages are over and American science is back.