Scientists Celebrate Dawn of Barack Obama’s Age of Reason

Sunday, February 15, 2009

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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.

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45 Responses to Scientists Celebrate Dawn of Barack Obama’s Age of Reason

  1. Is science all about siphoning taxpayer money for research grants? Boiling the points made here down to their essence, what basically seems to have happened is that (1) George Bush didn’t given “science” as much taxpayer money as “scientists” wanted him to give them, (2) they – or at least, political ideologues – called him “anti-science” for it, and (3) Obama is giving them more money.

    To anyone actually working in and participating in the supposed “Dark Ages of science” you speak about, the years 2000-2008 were not noticeably different from the years before or after, and Bush certainly had very little tangible effect either way on the daily lives of actual scientists. Perhaps things were even a little better, in fact: the mid-90s were not a good time for hiring, and 2009 is shaping up to be terrible, etc.

  2. feminazi says:

    I saw articles during Bush’s time in office where nations such as South Korea, Germany and Italy were quietly moving ahead with new and exciting treatments for a whole range of diseases and birth defect and in each case, these nations couldn’t fathom why the USA seemed committed to returning to disease treatment using blood leeches and magic potions.

  3. Feel free to describe those “new and exciting treatments” that South Korea, Germany, and Italy supposedly now have that the United States supposedly does not on account of Bush.

  4. Stephan Iversonn says:

    Sonic Charmer,

    Actually, your statement is entirely false.

    Beginning with the failed policies of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ which underemphasis the importance of both math and science, American children were shot through the education canon lagging behind children from the top 20 nations who lead the world in scientific pursuit.

    The Bush administration did its best to distance itself from scientific information. The few groups working on such issues as the environment, global warming and disease treatment, were told to change the outcome of their research or rist even steeper cuts to their programs.

    The NIH, once the world’s leader in understanding the pathology of disease and its treatment, saw under Bush a Washington shell trick called flatline funding. This allowed the scientific community to hold on by a thread and also let the administration tell the public they were supporting R&D work at the agency. In fact, the opposite was true. I know this because my wife works at the NIH and I know how many promising studies lacked the funding to move from stage one, to stages two and three.

    Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency were pressured to change their research to keep it consistent with the Bush political position on environmental issues which was unapologetically anti-science and pro-business. In frustration, this led to 35 percent of EPA scientists throwing up their hands and retiring early. We happen to be friends with several of them.

    Federal spending for scientific research and development was significantly reduced under the Bush’s 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 budgets, the fact that this is time period that coincided with the expansion of the Iraq war isn’t an accident.

    George W. Bush had contempt for science and the scientific community and their work. So please don’t try and spin his 8 years in office as even remotely friendly to science because I will shoot you down.

  5. Mauigirl says:

    Stephan is right. The lack of respect and credence that the Bush administration gave to scientific findings did lead to a downturn in the US commitment to new learning. To say nothing of the fact that the previous administration ignored and obscured the findings it had in promulgating its viewpoints on global warming and other issues.

  6. Dmitris says:

    Interesting piece. Obama’s economic stimulus package has tantalizing goodies for science at a time when new diseases are emerging and treatments are needed more than ever. Investing in America is a concept that is long overdue.

  7. VicoDANIEL says:

    When it came to science, the most insidious thing I saw during Bush’s tenure was the White House Office of Management and Budget practice regarding peer review.

    Peer review is a core process in science where researchers check the work and findings of each other for accuracy and balance before it’s published.

    The Bush administration hand-picked scientists to second-guess scientific research. This isn’t science — it’s propaganda. Nowhere was this more evident than on the environment. The administration worked tirelessly to shape the findings of science and protect corporate America.

    Particularly, the oil industry and greenhouse gas.

    vicodaniel1987@yahoo.com

  8. Matteo says:

    A Science-friendly administration can’t come a moment too soon.

    Climate Change Even Worse than Predicted

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090214/sc_afp/usclimatewarming_20090214150716

    It seems the dire warnings about the oncoming devastation wrought by global warming were not dire enough, a top climate scientist warned Saturday.

    It has been just over a year since the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a landmark report warning of rising sea levels, expanding deserts, more intense storms and the extinction of up to 30 percent of plant and animal species.

    But recent climate studies suggest that report significantly underestimates the potential severity of global warming over the next 100 years, a senior member of the panel warned.

    “We now have data showing that from 2000 to 2007, greenhouse gas emissions increased far more rapidly than we expected,” said Chris Field, who was a coordinating lead author of the report.

    This is “primarily because developing countries like China and India saw a huge upsurge in electric power generation, almost all of it based on coal,” Field said in a statement ahead of a presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  9. Beginning with the failed policies of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ which underemphasis the importance of both math and science, American children were shot through the education canon lagging behind children from the top 20 nations who lead the world in scientific pursuit.

    I absolutely and categorically reject the ridiculous notion that American children lagging behind other nations in math/science is a phenomenon that somehow “began” with NCLB. No freaking way. I also wonder where you get that it “underemphasizes the importance of both math and science”. For the record I’m not nec. a fan of NCLB but this criticism appears to be made-up.

    The Bush administration did its best to distance itself from scientific information. The few groups working on such issues as the environment, global warming and disease treatment, were told to change the outcome of their research or rist even steeper cuts to their programs.

    The “few” groups working on the environment, global warming, and disease treatment? Huh? There are tons of people who work on all these things. (especially “disease treatment”, which is essentially what EVERYONE in medicine and almost everyone in biotech works on, right?)

    The NIH, once the world’s leader in understanding the pathology of disease and its treatment, saw under Bush a Washington shell trick called flatline funding. […]

    In other words, they didn’t get as much funding as they wanted the government to give them. So you concede with my point then, this entire critique is about whether Bush gave them as much taxpayer money as they wanted him to give them.

    For the record, I’ve worked in science and I’ve had postdoc positions and I’ve needed government funding and all the rest of it. I certainly understand wanting more funding, wanting more jobs, and so forth. My problem is with calling a political administration “anti-science” and declaring a “new Dark Ages” if I don’t get the taxpayer money I demand. That is a low, low tactic. Scientists want money? Look around, join the freaking club.

    Federal spending for scientific research and development was significantly reduced under the Bush’s 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 budgets,

    Again, you’re just conceding my point, this is all about money. This is about extorting more money (taxpayer money – my money), on the threat that if it isn’t forthcoming, one is considered “anti-science” and accused of bringing about a “new Dark Ages in science”.

    Pretty despicable for a group of people who are supposedly elite and educated.

    the fact that this is time period that coincided with the expansion of the Iraq war isn’t an accident.

    Meaning??

    All this means is that (big surprise) someone who heads a government has – you guessed it – multiple priorities that he may have to balance, not just science. It’s very strange that scientists and educated people can’t see that and think they should be priority #1 all the time (even during wartime). Or, maybe it’s not so strange.

    George W. Bush had contempt for science and the scientific community and their work.

    This is just made-up. Now you’re a mind-reader: you feel free to declare that he “had contempt for” science. Based on what? Based on how much funding science got? Again – a low tactic. The reality is that any head of government has to figure out how to allocate his budget. Sometimes this involves hard tradeoffs. It’s not always personal feelings or biases involved. Why is that so hard to understand?

    So please don’t try and spin his 8 years in office as even remotely friendly to science because I will shoot you down.

    I didn’t say he was “friendly to science”, whatever that means. Personally I view the roles of government and science as separate (even if sometimes overlapping) things; technically, the government exists to do things other than science, you know. Actually I wouldn’t want a government to be especially “friendly to science”, not if that meant “giving scientists as much taxpayer money as they demanded, every year, all the time”.

  10. Aunt Peg says:

    Another enlightening thread, Christopher.

    I always wonder (and I know very little about science) about new and potential epidemics like Ebola and avian flu.

    We have been lucky that we successfully isolated these outbreaks before they reached huge population centers but what happens if the next time, one of these outbreaks hits the U.S.?

    I’m old enough to remember when AIDS was identified and unfortunately, it was during Reagan’s administration.

  11. Harry says:

    Sonic – I clicked on your name and your blog discusses Cylons. Dude, Cylons aren’t real — they’re fictional characters. Science is real. Big difference.

  12. Cylons aren’t real??? I’ll have to write that down. I feel so stupid now. You sure showed me, Harry. 😉

  13. Stephan Iversonn says:

    Personally I view the roles of government and science as separate…

    What you “personally” think, is irrelevant. It’s an opinion and you know what they say about opinions.

    The fact of the matter is, scientific research is very expensive, time-intensive and requires the deep pockets of the Federal government.

    For the United States to rejoin the community of science, means a financial commitment to advancing the goals of science. Be it clean energy, stem cell research or disease treatment.

  14. Brigadoon says:

    Harry,

    Your right! Hahahahaha! Maybe Sonic will next cite Klingon mythology. 🙂

  15. Joe in Colorado says:

    Did you guys hear the news report Friday out of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland that researchers have decoded the genetic material that cause the cold virus? The researchers say understanding how these viruses work will lead to potential treatments to beat the common cold. I suspect the 21st century will be all about how to treat and cure viral diseases. It’s exciting to have a science-friendly president in Barack Obama.

  16. mbmdl says:

    Taming and curing viral disease will be a huge step forward for humanity. As the mother of a soon-to-be teenage daughter, I was thrilled to see the human papilloma virus was identified as a the cause of 90% of all cases of cervical cancer cases and now there’s a vaccine to prevent it. Gardasil actually prevents HPV infections. Amazing. I wonder what this discovery will lead to in our understanding of cancer prevention?

  17. Big Hank says:

    Two words: stem cells.

  18. What you “personally” think, is irrelevant. It’s an opinion and you know what they say about opinions.

    The fact of the matter is, scientific research is very expensive, time-intensive and requires the deep pockets of the Federal government.

    Of course what I personally think is irrelevant. And you are right that scientific research is expensive and requires government. But this does not mean that the only role and purpose of government is to fund scientific research! It actually has other stuff to do ALSO, as you are hopefully smart enough to realize. So like I said: the roles of government and science are separate (if overlapping).

    Read that more carefully this time and let me know if you still dispute me.

    For the United States to rejoin the community of science,

    “rejoin the community of science”? This is just pure hyperbolic balderdash. Making ridiculous, sweeping, hyperbolic claims doesn’t exactly bolster your scientific credentials in my view. If someone who spoke this way claimed to be a scientist and came to me seeking research funds, I’d show them the door.

    Science would actually be better-served by having more respect for political debates and the political process, and being less hysterical, ideological, and more sober about their claims. IMHO. (But you know what they say about opinions.)

  19. Did you guys hear the news report Friday out of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland that researchers have decoded the genetic material that cause the cold virus? The researchers say understanding how these viruses work will lead to potential treatments to beat the common cold. I suspect the 21st century will be all about how to treat and cure viral diseases. It’s exciting to have a science-friendly president in Barack Obama.

    Because this breakthrough is entirely due to Obama being in the White House for the past 3 weeks.

    Unbelievable.

  20. TOM339 says:

    Blame religion and home schools for much of the anti-science thinking out there today.

    Many of the home schooled intentionally use curricula that misrepresents science in favor of non-scientific religious beliefs such as creationism, intelligent design, flood geology, and a young Earth.

    Remember that nitwit, Sarah Palin? She holds that earth was created 6,000 years ago and humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Imagine if she got anywhere near the White House and influenced policy?

  21. Joe in Colorado says:

    Sonic Idiot – Where did I say President Obama is responsible for the breakthroughs at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland? You see things that aren’t there. Of course, as a troll, this is your duty.


  22. She holds that earth was created 6,000 years ago and humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Imagine if she got anywhere near the White House and influenced policy?

    No, she doesn’t. And what would happen if she did, and influenced policy? What policy outcome, specifically, depends on how old the VP thinks the earth is and whether the VP thinks humans & dinosaurs co-existed?

  23. Where did I say President Obama is responsible for the breakthroughs at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland?

    You (1) cited a breakthrough and then (2) said it’s great to have a “science-friendly president” like Obama, in the same paragraph. If you’re now disavowing any actual connection between those two things, then ok.

    It does strike me as amazing, though. This common cold research you pointed us to, it almost had to have taken place entirely during the Bush Presidency – the “Dark Ages of science”! how is that possible??!?/1

    😉

  24. TOM339 says:

    Wrong again, Sonic.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2008/sep/28/nation/na-palinreligion28

    Soon after Sarah Palin was elected mayor of the foothill town of Wasilla, Alaska, she startled a local music teacher by insisting in casual conversation that men and dinosaurs coexisted on an Earth created 6,000 years ago – about 65 million years after scientists say most dinosaurs became extinct.

    After conducting a college band and watching Palin deliver a commencement address to a small group of home-schooled students in June 1997, Wasilla resident Philip Munger said, he asked the young mayor about her religious beliefs.

    Palin told him that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time,” Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said “she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks,” recalled Munger, who teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and has regularly criticized Palin in recent years on his liberal political blog, called Progressive Alaska.

  25. Harry says:

    Christopher – You have mail.

  26. TOM339,

    [LA Times anonymously-sourced claim]

    Did you go to and read what I linked?

  27. Adirondacky says:

    I read an article a few year ago about the additional training docents at the NY Natural History Museum now have to complete because of the high number of kids who visit the museum and were taught that humans and dinosaurs coexisted. Another example of how reason and fact get short-shifted when religion is allowed into education.

  28. Fran says:

    #1- YAY!!!!!

    #2- Global Warming & Stem Cell Research.

    Both suffered greatly under the shrub administration. The name of the game was to stall & question IF global warming was real, questioning the science- while thumbing the nose of the global community by doing things like refusing to sign on to the Kyoto treaty. Meanwhile crazed hoards chanting Drill Baby Drill at the Rep. Ntl convention neither the president or VP attended!

    Stem Cell research- The most promising thing in medical breakthroughs, and potential cures for disease was killed under the guise of pro life war mongers, who released depleted uranium on Iraq & U.S. soldiers.

    Scientists have every reason to celebrate!

  29. libhomo says:

    Every rational person is relieved. Our anti science troll just shows how nutty the far right has become. Pretty soon, they will all demand we use stone tools, and they will do it on their blogs.

  30. Investing in science is a good thing. Regan on purpose refused to acknowledge AIDS for years and failed to fund research regarding it. HW Bush was better than Regan. Who knows how many would be alive now if funding had been made available sooner.

    Anybody can say what ever they want but the President sets the tone, Bush was very clear about where his priorities were and that his administration was all about pandering to the religious.

    Kill people, make war, stoke the fires of hatred with terrorists, torture people, make a mockery of our Constitution and screw the taxpayer, those were his priorities.

    If that guy was your idea of a President who did ok with the funding for the last eight years then fine, but please spare us all that somehow Obama was being extorted by scientists just because he increased funding or made research part of the stimulus.

    Me thinks you doth protest too much.

  31. MacDaddy says:

    I’m excited about stem cell research taking off with this new funding. It could result in the saving of many lives.

  32. According to the NIH Webpage

    http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/health.asp

    The Promise of Stem Cells

    Studying stem cells will help us understand how they transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are. Some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects, are due to problems that occur somewhere in this process. A better understanding of normal cell development will allow us to understand and perhaps correct the errors that cause these medical conditions.

    Another potential application of stem cells is making cells and tissues for medical therapies. Today, donated organs and tissues are often used to replace those that are diseased or destroyed. Unfortunately, the number of people needing a transplant far exceeds the number of organs available for transplantation. Pluripotent stem cells offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

    Former President Bush used his veto power the first time in 2006 since taking office 5 1/2 years ago to block Federal funding for stem cell research, saying that an embryonic stem-cell research bill “crossed a moral boundary.”

    The stem cell bill, which the Senate passed Tuesday, 63-37, would have loosened the restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research.

    House Republican leaders tried Wednesday evening to override the veto, but that vote was 235 to 193, short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

    This religious lunatic stated:

    “This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect. So I vetoed it.”

    This flawed thinking informed by 10th century religious dogma is what will now end with President Obama in the White House. For centuries, people have suffered with a wide range of diseases and maladies and finally — thanks to stem cells, we have the chance to stop the suffering of million of people.

    All it takes is executive leadership and the financial support of the Federal government to move the practice of medicine into the 21st century.

  33. What is even more interesting is that when trying to prove ones point that they ignore the obvious. You can slant an argument anyway you choose to slant it so that in your mind you are correct.

    You propose to be on the side of science yet ignore some of the most basic tenents of science yourself. Obviously when GWB was making fun of Al Gore and the mainstream media was allowing him to do so you jumped on the bandwagon of nonbelievers in Global Warming.

    I bet if you were around back in the day of Galileo you would have strung him up for his beliefs as well, or at the very least cut off his funding.

    When other nations were investing in Stem Cell research our Nation chose to turn a blind eye to this kind of research for one reason only…religion.

    You can cloak your arguments anyway you choose but it does not change the facts. Instead of leading we chose to do nothing with regards to stem cell research. Privatized research is far different than Public research.

    You can laugh at Global Warming all you want but it does not change the fact that we have serious climate issues going on here on planet earth.

    The next time the smart guy is running against the stupid guy maybe your guys will pick a smart guy. Till then I hope you enjoy living in denial Sonic. When you read the post and look at the context there is not a single thing in it that is disputable.

    George W. Bush was not interested in Science, anything but. W. wanted to make war and finish his daddy’s business. Anyone who would even suggest that W. was a friend to science or that he even believes in science is certifiably in the tank.

    So now, lets talk about that asshat Ronnie Regan…

  34. Joaquin says:

    Of course it’s all about the money.

    Scientific research and development is expensive and without government help in the form of funding, it often doesn’t happen at all.

    My youngest brother has autism and although he gets along fairly well, I always wonder if his life would be different if stem cell research has been made a priority during Bush’s term instead of waging a $12 billion dollar a month war in Iraq for legacy.

  35. To Harry,

    I got your email and I’ve taken care of the matter.

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

  36. Prairiedog says:

    For all the religious right’s foot stomping about science and stem cells you can bet the pig farm if Bush or the the Bush twins, or Cheney or his dyke daughter’s son, or Tony Perkins, or Rick Warren, suddenly came down with an illness that stem cells could cure, they would be the first people on a flight to South Korea to take advantage of the procedure.

    Where we were headed during Bush’s presidency was two tiers of medicine: one for the elites, including the religious right and everyone else.

  37. Bill Hussein O'Reilly says:

    Why would George Bush oppose stem cell research?

    After all, stem cells could grow his sorry ass a brain.

  38. Harry says:

    Christopher – Sorry to be a pain in the ass but the troll situation had become untenable.

  39. Randy Arroyo says:

    From the article:

    “Just three days after President Obama’s inauguration, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first human trial of an embryonic stem-cell therapy, which had been held up for months.”

    Case closed. America’s back, baby!

  40. DB says:

    This is a win for science no matter how trolls try and spin it. It feels great to have a government mentality that is focused on the future again (as opposed to the religious policies of maintaining past traditions).

  41. JollyRoger says:

    I tried to make some sense of Charmer’s posts here, and then I visited his blog.

    I am sad to report that his blog makes more sense than his postings here. Arguing against what you WISH someone said may be a time-honored wingtard method of skirting the debate, but we all know that trick and it doesn’t work here.

  42. Scott Dancer says:

    It’s certainly been my experience with visiting blogs that trolls like Snake Charmer serve one purpose: to disrupt conversation and drive people away through a series of personal attacks.

    Whether the issue is science, or abortion, or gay rights or universal healthcare, or taxation, the job of the troll is to take the drivel seen on Pajamas media blogs and post in the reality based community. They’re a form of human virus.

    Back to the topic at hand. There is no question that science was held in contempt by the Bush administration. Bush is controlled by the oil industry and the religious right and yes, Sarah Palin said humans and dinosaurs coexisted 6,000 years ago — not 4,000 years ago.

    I am delighted to see a pro-science president now in the White House named Barack Obama. He is pro-science and pro-stem cell research and the U.S. under his leadership will step into the 21st century and the trolls can eat shit and die if they don’t like it.

  43. Dmitris says:

    The Christian right has always been at odds with science. The difference now is, a tiny sliver of our nation have embarked on a path of early 1st century beliefs like Young Earth, and light speed is possible, and human/dinosaurs cohabitation and thanks to home schooling and wingnut states like Tennessee, Texas and Mississippi, are free to teach their children these whacko beliefs as fact.

  44. libhomo says:

    TOM339 said:

    “Blame religion and home schools for much of the anti-science thinking out there today.”

    That is an excellent point.

  45. Jim says:

    Thank goodness! Out of the dark ages!!

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