April 27th, 2009
11:01 AM ET
13 years ago

Obama pledges greater support for scientific research

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The president pledged Monday to restore America's "commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation," a responsibility he said has been undermined by a combination of neglect and "predetermined ideological agendas."

Among other things, President Barack Obama set a goal of devoting more than 3 percent of the country's gross domestic product to scientific research and development. He also promised new federal funding to help address gaps in math and science education.

Over the past half century, "our investments have steadily declined as a share of our national income," Obama warned in an address to the National Academy of Sciences.

"As a result, other countries are now beginning to pull ahead in the pursuit of this generation's great discoveries."

The president promised "the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history" because such work is "more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been."

Obama pointed out that the recently passed $787 billion economic stimulus bill included the "largest single boost to investment in basic research in American history."

He also noted that his proposed fiscal year 2010 budget - as well as the budget bills that have passed the House and Senate - doubles the budget of the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Striking a more political tone, Obama offered what many observers may consider to be criticism of his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, arguing that "scientific integrity has (recently) been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas."

Obama signed an executive order in March that repealed a Bush-era policy limiting federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research. He also signed a memorandum designed to ensure greater political independence for federal science policies and programs.

The president also used his appearance before the Academy to announce funding for a new institute called the "Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy," charged with conducting "high-risk, high-reward research" similar to the kind of work that resulted in the creation of the Internet, improved stealth technology, and the Global Positioning System.

It would be modeled, he said, after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was created during the Eisenhower administration in response to the Soviet Union's Sputnik launch.

"When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik a little more than a half century ago, Americans ... had a choice to make: we could accept defeat - or we could accept the challenge," Obama said. "And as always, we chose to accept the challenge."

The president argued that it is now time for the country to tackle new challenges presented in the form of global warming, cancer and other problems.

To help do so, he announced the appointment of members to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

"This council represents leaders from many scientific disciplines who will bring a diversity of experiences and views," he said. "I will charge (it) with advising me about national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation."

Obama said the council will be jointly chaired by John Holdren, his top science advisor; Eric Lander, one of the heads of the Human Genome Project; and Harold Varmus, a former head of the National Institutes of Health.

Finally, the president warned that the country is also facing a shortfall of qualified math and science teachers.

He noted that, in high school, "more than 20 percent of students in math and more than 60 percent of students in chemistry and physics are taught by teachers without expertise in these fields."

He highlighted a projected shortfall of more than 280,000 math and science teachers nationwide by 2015.

To help address the shortfall, Obama announced that states making "strong commitments and progress" in math and science education will soon be eligible to compete for additional funds from the Department of Education.

"I am challenging states to dramatically improve achievement in math and science by raising standards, modernizing science labs, upgrading curriculum, and forging partnerships to improve the use of science and technology in our classrooms," he said.

"And I am challenging states to enhance teacher preparation and training, and to attract new and qualified math and science teachers to better engage students and reinvigorate these subjects in our schools."

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Samuel

    Thank goodness! Bush shortchanged us in the science department. Obama's going to have a lot to do to undo that. I hope the scientists can find a way to catch up on the work they couldn't do over the last 8 years.

    April 27, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  2. Glenn Doty, Columbia, SC

    Thank God.

    This is probably about 28 years too late, but it is needed nontheless.

    We're going to be losing ground for nearly a full generation in competitiveness as a result of our lack of science and engineering funding since the early 80's... but if we really torque up our support now, at least we'll only lose ground for one generation.

    April 27, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  3. kassie

    Finally. Somebody intelligent for a president.

    April 27, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  4. me

    About time.

    Now...Don't forget to include marijuana in this new era of "greater support for scientific research. I can't think of a bigger victim of "a responsibility he said that has been undermined by a combination of neglect and "predetermined ideological agendas."

    April 27, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  5. michaelam

    It's about time. Almost 10 years into the 21st Centrury and we are still many years behind! Thank you, President Obama for leading our Nation out of Dark Ages.

    April 27, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  6. Unshrub

    It's about time we have someone in the WH that believes in science and not voodoo.

    April 27, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  7. Bill in Austin

    Now let's wait for the conservative "nay sayers" to debunk science once again. All they think about is that it will cost businesses money and not the fact that it may actually create businesses and jobs. Wish they would join the rest of the country as we march into the future utilizing science, technology, and progress.

    April 27, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. marcus

    wow... imagine that... science being put back at the forefront of america... after 8 years of the "dark ages," under bush... how embarassing was the bush administration !!!

    April 27, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  9. 29% of Americans are TRAITORS for wanting America to FAIL and 71% of Americans to SUFFER!

    Finally an intelligent President.

    One that does not believe the world started 6000 years ago by a power that snaps his fingers and in 6 24 hour spans "creates" the universe.

    A President that does not believe the dinosaur bones were put there by God so Exxon could find the results and we could have oil.

    A President that believes in furthering stem cell research on discarded embryos for the benefit of sick and suffering Americans.

    Is it too much to hope for that we have a President that does not believe the world is flat.

    April 27, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  10. old timer

    Once again Mr Obama has a photo op
    Once again the photo op does not include a homeless person
    Once again the photo op does not include a person that has lost a job
    Once again the photo op does not include a word about generated job opportunities.
    Where are the jobs you promised Mr Obama?

    April 27, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |