An American President has a lot to do with science. As either a professional lawyer or politician, he or she often isn’t qualified to evaluate scientific progress directly. But the President does have a responsibility to delgate that job to educated individuals and to delegate the oversight of that progress.
Most scientists felt pretty good about Obama’s capacity to do just that, and the judgment of his transition teams has been positive. He’s surrounding himself with competent people. But there may be some worrisome points when it comes to those in charge of his science policies.
A recent article in Time suggests that the transition team at NASA might be screwing things up, and that future manned exploration projects may be in jeopardy. The space program is one thing that the Bush administration got right, and it has been moving well towards good, definitive goals. Now that may change. (It’s all in the article. Summarizing is just enabling).
We need a progressing space program. I understand that we’re in a recession, and that it can be difficult to contemplate going into space when we have problems here at home. However, critics of the space program are invited to tell me when our problems on Earth will end. We went to the moon the first time in the 1960’s! Besides the civil rights movement and the emergence of the Beatles, that was the best thing to come out of that decade. People need progress. People need heroes. People need to have their mind stretched, and they need to believe that great things can be accomplished even when the waters aren’t calm.
I don’t know who Obama’s science adviser will be (My first choice: Francis Collins. Second choice: Bortz!) but I hope that all scientific divisions of our government– NASA, NIH, NSF, EPA, etc– have smooth transitions run by competent people.