President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced Friday that he would strengthen the role of science in his cabinet to “refresh and reinvigorate our national science and technology strategy.”
Mr. Biden will appoint Eric S. Lander, director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and appoint him as scientific advisor to the president. For the first time, the position is raised at cabinet level.
The appointments signal a drastic shift from the role of science in the Trump administration. President Trump left the science advisor position blank for 18 months while his administration routinely ignored guidance from government scientists on topics such as the coronavirus pandemic, chemical pollution and climate change.
Mr Biden has made other appointments to the White House that could add science to decision-making, such as the appointment of John Kerry, former Secretary of State and Democratic Senator, a special envoy for the President on Climate Change, and the creation of a new White House Office of Climate Policy under the direction of Gina McCarthy, who served as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama.
“Eric Lander is a true Renaissance scientist with a deep understanding of the many fields of science and their interrelationships,” said Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences. “At a time when the nation and the world are facing complex challenges that require the full power of the natural, life, environmental, social, biomedical, and engineering sciences, Eric is an inspired choice of a scientist of international standing for ensuring that science guides sound policy. “
In Friday’s announcement, Mr. Biden also announced that Alondra Nelson, professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and president of the Social Science Research Council in Washington, DC, would serve as assistant director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Frances H. Arnold and Maria Zuber will serve as external co-chairs of the President’s Science and Technology Advisory Board, a council of prominent volunteer experts from outside the federal government. Dr. Arnold, a protein scientist at Caltech, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018, just the fifth woman to do so. Dr. Zuber, vice president of research at MIT, was the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission.
“Science will always be at the forefront of my administration – and these world-renowned scientists will make sure that everything we do is based on science, facts and the truth,” Biden said in his announcement. “Your trusted guidance will be vital as we come together to end this pandemic, bring back our economies, and make new breakthroughs to improve the quality of life for all Americans. Your insights will help America plan a better future, and I am grateful that you answered the call for service. “
In 2018, Mr. Trump appointed Kelvin Droegemeier, then vice president of research at the University of Oklahoma, as its director of the science and technology policy bureau. Although Dr. Droegemeier is highly regarded for his weather research, many scholars felt that he failed to convince Mr. Trump to stand behind a significant improvement in American science.
“I give him an A for effort and an F for performance,” a science policy expert told Science Magazine in October about Dr. Droegemeier.
During his two years in the White House, Dr. Droegemeier back in January and made headlines. He expelled two employees after they published brochures about climate deniers with a White House logo.
Mr Trump left the President’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology inactive for 33 months. When he restored it in 2019, only one of his appointees was an academic scientist, and private industry representatives filled out the council.
Dr. Lander, the candidate for the Scientific Advisor, is best known as one of the directors of the Human Genome Project. With his PhD in mathematics, he created elegant methods for sifting through genetic data, mapping genes and discovering their functions and roles in diseases.
Dr. Lander founded the Broad Institute, which became a premier research center for genome sequencing. Broad researchers have also done some of the pioneering work on CRISPR, the technology for manipulating DNA. Dr. Lander previously served as co-chair of Mr. Obama’s Scientific Advisory Board.
“Our country represents science and technology at the most important moment since World War II,” said Dr. Lander in a press release from the Broad Institute. “How we react will shape our future for the rest of this century. President-elect Biden understands the centrality of science and technology, and it is my great honor to have the chance to serve the nation. “
In a letter to Dr. Lander, which Mr Biden released on Friday, reminded the President-elect how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had asked his science advisor Vannevar Bush a series of questions about how science could benefit the United States. Mr. Biden introduced Dr. Lander raised his own questions about improving public health, climate change, technology, and ensuring that the benefits of science are fully shared by all Americans.
“I look forward to receiving your recommendations – and to working with you, your team, and the broader scientific community to create solutions that will ease the burden on the American people, create new jobs and opportunities, and drive American leadership in the world restore stage, ”wrote Mr Biden.
Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be Dr. Lander, Dr. Nelson, Dr. Arnold and Dr. Zuber at a live event on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time in Wilmington, Del.