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Science and Obama
This image shows a microscopic face on a monitor of President-elect Barack Obama made using nanotechnology, and imaged using a scanning electron microscope are shown in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, Oct. 31, 2008. The face consists of millions of vertically-carbon nanotubes, grown by a high temperature chemical reaction. (AP Photo/John Hart)

An image of President-elect Barack Obama made using nanotechnology, and imaged using a scanning electron microscope are shown in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Oct. 31, 2008. The face consists of millions of vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes, grown by a high temperature chemical reaction. (AP Photo/John Hart)

For scientists across America, Barack Obama’s inauguration was a breath of fresh air — a pledge to “restore science,” Obama said, “to it’s rightful place.”

In week one, the president set a new green agenda for emissions standards and fuel efficiency for cars. Al Gore is on Capitol Hill today, urging action on climate change. And there are billions for research grants in the proposed stimulus package.

But solar panels and green cars are the easy part. There are still big, controversial decisions ahead on stem cell research, the Internet, space, and more.

This hour, On Point: Obama and American science.

You can join the conversation. Does science need to be “restored” to its “rightful place” in policy making? Is the President right to put the environment front and center?


Joining us from New York is John Rennie, editor-in-chief of the Scientific American.

With us from Washington, DC is Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

And from Worcester, Mass., is Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology, a biotech company that plans to ask the FDA to approve a study that uses embryonic stem cells to treat blindness.

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  • http://www.goodmedicinetree.net Helena

    Environmental concerns are not in competition with other issues we are dealing with. Care for the environment can contribute to economic well being, healthy citizens.

    We also need to realize there is plenty of disagreement in science and that knowledge is always evolving. It is part of the consideration for making policy but not the ultimate authority (especially when knowledge is incomplete or there is disagreement)

  • John

    One caller mentioned that we need to be looking at off-shore wind farms. I thought that it may be interesting to others to know that the Department of the Interior recently released an Environmental Impact Statement for off-shore alternative energy initiatives; http://www.mms.gov/ooc/press/2007/pressdoi1105.htm.

    The EIS is one of the first steps in undertaking large projects such as off-shore windfarms or wave/ocean current turbines.

    Thank you

  • Stephanie

    I am not a formally trained scientist, but as a naturalist and environmental educator, I consider myself very scientifically-minded. Science is paramount to forming environmental policy. How can we mold this discussion of the importance of science to include lay people who may feel that they need to leave decision-making up to the scientists and the policy-makers? How can we (scientists, educators, and government leaders) help lay people feel that they can understand the science behind the decisions? If this could be achieved, then in the future we can avoid the degredation of respect for science that we saw over the last eight years.

  • http://dontmarry-incorporate.blogspot.com/ Bill W.

    Jane, et guests…

    The major problem science faces is that our top “economic sector,” the so-called “financial services sector,” something like 19% of GDP, to manufacturing’s, what, 16, 18%? has managed to vacuum something like (I’m really lousy w/ figures) two, three or four times the US GDP in about three years.

    And that leaves, gosh, only husks and dust to spend on anything else.

    The “financial” sector contributes NO THING, nothing, to our economy–except maybe some “opportunity”. It deals exclusively with bets and IOUs–gambling and debt. Wasn’t supposed to be that way.

    The “transparency” we need in that sector requires a sea-change. That is, any money, bets, IOUs, have to be online. It may not have to get to the point where anyone can look up anyone else’s financial status, income, assets, etc., but pretty darned close. The posting must take place in real-time. All the “corporate welfare” must be disclosed, real-time.

    Businesses will have to change their practices to add a profit center called Political Investment. The accounts/ledger of this business unit, for all companies, will be online, and updated every week.

    Legislation will be required to have an introductory section called “Economic Benefits Analysis,” listing all contributions to politicians, by dollar, company, individual and politician. The specific words, phrases, paragraphs which confer these benefits must be annotated in the legislation.

    The same section, Economic Benefits Analysis, must be part of every single regulatory action, proposal, rule.

    And we will need a Windfall ROPI Profits tax, that kicks in at 25% of ROPI–return on political investments. The tax rate must be 100%. That is, the current practice, where a company, for say $2.6 million in contributions, can get a profit, a ROPI, of a $100 BILLION contract, etc.–I think that works out to more than 3,000% profit, WAAAAY, WAAAY above any 18% or 25% that might be considered “not too shabby” by most businesses (except for funds secretly making out in the hedges, of course–must be brought to a screeching (that will be the corporate welfare recipients providing the sound effects) HALT.

    Science, schmience. Let science figure out where in the amygdala and/or hippocampus greed and gambling dwell, and maybe we could zap it. I hesitate to suggest figuring out how the economy works, as that’s already been tried, I believe. By rocket scientists gone greedy, no less.

  • Peter

    Not to mention SOCIAL SCIENCES! How’s about some appreciation of, and engagement with, the research that has recently revealed (SHOCKING!) a relationship between poverty and low intellectual achievement? What can we make of THAT? Why does “hard science” seem to be the cherished handmaiden of the “military/corporate industrial complex”, and its relentless, and usually ruthless, “products and services”?

  • Amy

    The attitude a nation has toward science, or any subject for that matter, begins in the elementary grades. I don’t think schools should diminish the importance of the arts and literature over science, but I’m very disappointed with the science textbooks published in our country. The publishers have to cleanse their books of anything that may be offensive to the screening panels their books need to travel before they will be acceptable for publication. Does the public really know who decides what can’t go into science and history textbooks? History is being rewritten rather than letting students take the facts and discuss and compare. We are surprised when the citizen on the street doesn’t understand how bacteria can become immune to antibiotics yet we are still seeing debate on the theological content in science textbooks. The problem is grown in this country and it’s difficult to make changes with the same old textbook problems.

  • http://gordon.edu Dan Russ

    I share the concerned about global warming and the environment and support all reasonable initiatives to address these issues. However, I seldom hear scientists acknowledge the fact that it is modern science and technology that have made possible and contributed to the global crisis we face. With more and more scientists, research universities and labs in close partnership with industry and government-funding sources, why should we believe that the scientists who largely got us into this mess should now be trusted to get us out? Who vets the sciences and discerns between genuine science and self-serving individuals and organizations that seek shortcuts to money and recognition?

  • cr

    The truely Big Lie has been the “Gag Order” regarding H5N1 Pandemic Flu Year Alert. The public thinks their officials would tell them if it was important or really could start next week, or they and their kids really could suffer and die – well, it seems it was ‘too big to tell’. Or, to tell honestly.

    “Moral Hazard” -the people the public trusted found it easier for their day-to-day business to not tell you, despite the long-term consequences to our nation.

    CDC under Gerberding misstated – with no basis in science- because the “unprecedentedly” fatal H5N1 virus (out of China – not the “biological attack” on your radar?) was, she said, “too hard” to plan for-
    the CFR assumptions to use for State/Local Pandemic flu plannning; incredible low; future performance going by past results! and ignoring Dr.Webster’s findings on H5N1′s “unpresedented” virulence and multi-mammal species range.

    We have been “planning to fail” because of this and other incorrect assumptions.

    The fact the American public still mostly has no idea we’ve been playing ‘russian roulette’ with the 2005-definition (that’s another place “political and economic pressures” won out over scientific honesty) WHO Pandemic Alert Phase 4 & 5 “Rapid Response and Containment” operations; movement restrictions, “Tamiflu blankets” and they were supposed to do animal culls,(those run into “economic & political pressures” & logistical glitches)
    to delay the human-to-human clusters abroad from getting loose and being pandemic start. (The WHO under Chan rewrote the Phases again; new “3″ is Now, new “4″ is “Outbreak”; that “draft” isn’t getting passed around to your planners.)

    We are at the last stage- next thing is Pandemic; in what ways has the US failed to prepare because China got control of the WHO before their Olympics, and, too much influence in our trade and finances and government?

    Government has known -for years- Pandemic flu year was too much for any top-down solution, and, that we outsourced so many of our critical needs it is a national security risk, (read the “Dark Winter” report fromm early 2001) yet they still refuse to treat the public like adults, and give this matter of life or death at least the coverage a political campaign or the switch to digital tv gets.

    All the day-to-day concerns will get swept away come Pandemic, and the situation now is worse abroad than its ever been; places like
    PFI Pandemic Flu Information Forum have been translating local news;
    you can see a lot of background there too; govt has been refusing to tell the public how to really prepare.

    What difference does it make it they asked, not very publically, for “public input” on how to “ration scarce vaccine”, when they skipped the ethics of telling the public, and, of allowing local “all”-stakeholder Pandemic-specific Preparedness Coordinating Committees?

    We have no panflu vaccine – we can’t make enough if they ever can make one (and H5N1 is in at least 10 clades by now and still mutating – and still highly virulent; it does not have to drop) it has been going human-to-human.
    Nations are willing to lie about test results and many other things; they are looking at their daily interests over tomorrows outcomes.

    H5N1 has been being fought by Tamiflu, it is fatal without in at symptom onset, and govt never wanted to buy treatment for 75% of the public, and the seasonal flus now have a gene snip that will make Tamiflu useless when it gets into an H5N1 that gets loose.

    What are we going to do with no effective antivirals and no vaccine and “no outside aid possible” and supply and staff disruptions?
    The military recently said they cannot take care of their own, nor the civilians who run the critical infrastructure, in a “virulent biological” national event.

    President Obama, VP Biden, and all Congress know the Consequences of unPreparedness. If the 2006 Stae Pandmeic Flu Summits with HHS had been braodcast perhaps the public would know too.

    If the “US State Dept H5N1 factsheet” had been a PSA since July, 2006, that would have been fair to taxpayers.

    When -if ever- are they going to stop censoring and spinning this issue and speak honestly to the public about H5N1 and Panflu Year Preparedness – “after it gets here” is more than ‘tragically wrong”;
    it puts our very nation’s future at risk.

    It is not true, “The public can’t afford to prepare” – we can’t afford Not to!

    It is not true, “There’s nothing the public can do, because there’s no vaccine”-

    Yes, we Can!
    see GetPandemicReady.org

  • http://dontmarry-incorporate.blogspot.com/ Bill W.

    Oh yeah–forgot to note that as a concomitant to the above ROPI procedures, we will instruct “our” FCC to set aside six channels or more, whatever is needed, for the broadcast of free political advertising, 24/365–all ads, all the time.

    We can have the licensed stations provide the gear and personnel to run them–as part of their obligation to “serve the public interest”–or just as a quid pro quo to get the huge deals they get on licenses already.

    And of course, there would be a government-funded campaign setup, optional.

    And completely unlimited contributions, that must be posted on the web/filed with FEC simultaneously with the making of the contribution, just the way bank accounts are supposedly updated in real-time (except for the need of float, of course), will be allowed. This includes horses, hookers, printing, time, transportation, jobs for relatives, insider-stock tips, below-market-value sales, etc–all things of benefit, value.

    Penalties for failing to file: 100 x the amount of the contribution and prison time of 3x the term length of the person to whom you’re contributing. In the case of Political Action Committees, no requirements: they’re just banned, outright. Donations to a particular party, whether to, say, the American Invertebrates Incumbent Party, the Demican or Republicrat party, it’s 3x the longest term length any party member is running for–that is, 18 years (three times the senatorial term length).

    To establish a self-enforcing system, the person/party to whom the unreported donation is made will have 1,000 times the amount of the donation deducted from the vote count of the person/party.

    And, of course, to forestall the inevitable situation where the operatives of candidate A make a huge unreported donation to their opponents’ campaign(s)–candidate B, we’ll disqualify the election of candidate A. The statute of limitations expires at the end of 3 times the term length of the race in question.

    That is, if candidate A, the dirty-tricks transgressor, wins an election on this basis, we (the people) can remove him/her from office in the first term, second term and third term, should A have been re-elected (likely, because of the power of the American Invertebrate Incumbents’ Party).

  • Bryan

    John Rennie was probably being inadvertently (and hilariously) ironic when, discussing the newly-elevated status of scientists in the Obama administration, he wondered whether it would be a good thing now to take as “Gospel” what scientists say.

    No doubt Rennie was trying to appear “balanced” in his presentation.

    We have had eight years of an intensive crusade against facts of every kind, in every arena, from non-existing weapons in Iraq to cynical – perhaps even criminal – stifling of evidence for global warming. There should be no question that President Obama’s willingness to let scientists dictate policy for a change is something to be welcomed.

    Our situation is dire. I am reminded of a story in the Buddhist tradition, where a man shot with a poisoned arrow refuses to let a doctor treat him before he knows who shot the arrow, what the arrow was made of, what the bow looked like, and so on. That man would die before learning the answers to all his questions. What he needs is for someone to pull the arrow out, now.

    We desperately need to pull the poisoned arrow of anti-intellectual dogma that has infected our body politic out, immediately.

    For too long our country has been in the grip of officially-sanctioned irrationality, and we need to remember just how insidious and damaging the infection has been.

    The Bush administration was openly proud of disdaining the truth and forcing their ideology on the rest of us, whether we liked it or not. Anyone who doubts this should at least read Ron Suskind’s article in the New York Times of 10-14-04, entitled “Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” It’s a gold mine of sorrowful anecdotes about the president’s self-conscious pursuit of a holy war against fact and reason. For example, Suskind quotes Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan administration official, who said about Bush:

    ‘”This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts….He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.” Bartlett paused, then said, ”But you can’t run the world on faith.”‘

    Suskind went on to quote an unnamed source (Karl Rove, perhaps?) who criticized Suskind in the following astonishing way:

    ‘The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”‘

    (for reference, see http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html)

    We need to remember these shocking ideas and what deleterious effects such attitudes have had (see Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science” for more woeful details). Whether it concerns the latest failed experiment with unbridled capitalism that has led to the current economic collapse, inaction on climate change, or inability to free up research on stem cells, there should be no controversy over the “rightful place” of science – i.e., the practice of basing one’s beliefs on evidence – over the quixotic promotion of blind faith that has gone on for far too long. It’s long past due for reason to be valued over faith. Otherwise, this world will cease to exist in short order.

    Shout it from the rooftops: “Let science be science!”

  • Fred

    Although no one would ever know it by listening to On Point or NPR, but there are still a lot of open questions about climate change. John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, has a long history of being an alarmist crusader who’s predictions have proven to be absolutely wrong. (See Jeff Jacoby’s recent Boston Globe column “Questions for Obama’s Science Guy”, http://www.jeffjacoby.com/2337/questions-for-obamas-science-guy).

    Given Holdren’s track record, why should we take his current bloviation seriously? It’s clear that the new right-thinkers (more acurately, leftist-and-wrong-thinkers) brook no dissent from the new orthodoxy. What’s different in the new administration is not the lack of interference of government in science but just a shift of the accepted dogma.

    The program would have been a lot more interesting if it were not a love-fest. If the producers are, in fact, interested in honest discussion, they would have invited critics to participate. There are legitimate, open questions about global warming raised by serious scientists, but their voices are not heard. Because the questions they ask and the data they cite diverges from the orthodoxy-du-jour, they are maligned and marginalized if even acknowledged at all. When On Point and NPR just mouth politically correct pieties and not inquire seriously, they do us all a great disservice.

  • FloridaPhd

    I am interested in hearing what Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology has to say. This should prove to be an extremely interesting interview.

  • Everytechnology

    Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology ACTC.PK

    Robert Lanza, M. D. is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and Adjunct Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He has hundreds of publications and inventions, and 20 scientific books: among them, “Principles of Tissue Engineering,” which is recognized as the definitive reference in the field. Others include One World: The Health & Survival of the Human Species in the 21st Century (Foreword by President Jimmy Carter), and the “Handbook of Stem Cells” and “Essentials of Stem Cell Biology,” which are considered the definitive references in stem cell research. Dr. Lanza received his BA and MD degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was both a University Scholar and Benjamin Franklin Scholar. He was also a Fulbright Scholar, and was part of the team that cloned the world’s first human embryo, the first to clone an endangered species, and to generate stem cells using a method that does not require the destruction of embryos.

    Dr. Lanza was awarded the 2005 Rave Award for Medicine by Wired Magazine, and recently received the 2006 “All Star” Award for Biotechnology. Dr. Lanza and his research have been featured in almost every media outlet in the world, including CNN, TIME, Newsweek, People, as well as the front pages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, among others. Lanza has worked with some of the greatest thinkers of our time, including Nobel laureates Gerald Edelman and Rodney Porter, renowned Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner (the “Father of modern behaviorism”), Jonas Salk (discoverer of the Polio vaccine), and heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard. His current research and work at Advanced Cell Technology focuses on stem cells and regenerative medicine and their potential to provide therapies for some of the world’s most deadly and debilitating conditions.


  • InvestorsforChange

    InvestorsforChange supports Stem Cell Research

    We invest money into Advanced Cell Technology.

    We fully support the efforts of the Obama Administration.

    We believe Robert Lanza and Michael West are medical pioneers.

    We are happy for the attention on the entire stem cell industry.

  • Mike and Jill


    This is such an important topic. Political, ethical, moral and technological boundaries are being progressed after being stifled for so many years. Abortion and Stem Cells were wedge issues and used as disgusting political tools that have kept millions from experiencing increases in their quality of life.

    The Energy Issue is huge. I’m glad it’s being addressed here. I’m a supporter of Fuel Cells.

  • Viaspace!!

    Hey, I’m big into fuel cells too!

    I’m happily invested in VSPC.OB. If you want to know more. Direct Methanol Fuel Cells are the future of portable power.


    P.S. I don’t work for Viaspace, i’m just a satisfied investor.

    Thanks OnPoint for bringing up these important topics.

    I am also a fan of Robert Lanza.


    Thanks for having Lanza on. That’s what drew me to this show. Take care.

  • Tiger

    Great show…continuing the NPR afterglow following the Obamagasm….is that what Rennie meant by ” giddy honeymoon”?

  • Brian Martin

    Let’s look at the context of this program….30% Scientific, 20% Obama gushing, and of course the 50% obligatory Bush bashing by your guests and “callers”. NPR should change the name of this program because in most of the programs the host(s), guest(s), and “callers”, never seem to stay “on point”, but rather continue to whine about the “last 8 years”. Follow your “Messiah ” …err leader and put the past behind you.
    It will be interesting to see which institutions of knowledge will reap the majority of benifits in the ecobomic stimulus.
    Hmmmm…they’ll probably be in the same company of States whose electoral votes went with to the democrat in the oval office.

    I also look forward to global warming, well not me, rather my descendents. You see we live in the “sandhills” of North Carolina. It was beach front property thousand of years ago from the previous warming of the planet and the rising sea levels. So a hundred years from now, hopefuully our great grand children or their children will appreciate and enjoy the choice of location we decided to move to.

    Brian Martin
    Southern Pines, NC

  • David Rabkin

    Building on Helena’s comment: Science is a process that produces tentative knowledge. Uncertainty and disagreement have been used as an excuse for maintaining the status quo, for not taking action. One of the structural challenges of human impact is that the time for taking action to address emergent issues may often come before the point in time when science produces conclusions that are overwhelmingly agreed upon and thus unambiguous. The environmental impact of human activity is the notable example — whether it’s the consequences greenhouse gas emissions today or the use of certain chemical pesticides (e.g., DDT) or other dangerous chemicals (like CFCs) in the past.

    The issue of using the uncertain information produced by science to be proactive and timely is one of the central challenges facing policy-makers. It’s particularly problematic when the electorate wants decisions to be made based on the “truth”, something science, particularly early-stage research, just can’t produce.

  • Ed Coke

    What a weasely answer the phoned-in question on H1bs and guestworker and immigrant engineers and scientists received from Grifo!

    It’s obvious disingenuousness ought to shame UCS and especially its `Scientific Integrity’ program, and it’s quite disappointing to see what side they take on this issue.

    The thing is no one is going to fool the young people shunning technical careers: no bullshit can coverup the facts they see when their fathers, uncles, and older siblings become unemployed.

Aug 29, 2014
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Aug 29, 2014
Ukrainian forces guard a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.  (AP)

War moves over Syria, Ukraine. Burger King moves to Canada. Nine-year-olds and Uzis. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

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