Weekly Address from Obama’s Science Gurus

The scientific community is quite rightly celebrating the replacement of the ascientific Bush with the assertively pro-science Obama, and the elevation of a cadre of outstanding scientists (Varmus, Lubchenko, Chu et al.) to cabinet or advisory positions. But given how much has been written lately about an increasing divide between science and the public, and growing public rejection of things universally accepted amongst scientists, I’ve been surprised at how little of the discussion concerning the presidential transition has been focused on reinvigorating public support for the government’s role in funding and promoting science.

I would like to see Obama’s science team take a creative new approach to this challenge, and parallel the President’s weekly address with a “Weekly Science Address” – a video posted on YouTube as well as a radio version – in which they describe something cool that government scientists or government-funded scientists have done that week.

The focus would not be on the high-profile results – the stuff that already gets written up in the popular press – but on the scientists, the way they work, the questions they are addressing and the tools they’re using to go after them. They would be short and fun – a kind of elevator pitch for government science. Maybe I’m overestimating public interest, but if done right, I think these could be very popular. People care about medical research, about space missions, about fighting global warming, protecting the oceans – and they could care about lots of other things, including even “fruit fly research in Paris, France“. 

And next time there’s a Congressional attack on the NSF budget, or a politician takes a unwarranted crack at an important project, people will be there to say “Hey, I heard the president’s science guru talk about that, and it’s actually pretty cool.”

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