Obama: 'Science is key to our survival'
Published: Saturday December 20, 2008

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President-elect promises new focus on technology hand-in-hand with efforts to curb global warming.

President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday signaled climate change and genetic research will be among his top priorities when he takes office as he named White House science and technology advisers.

"Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation," Obama said in a weekly radio and video address.

"It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology."

Obama's comments were a clear reference to President George W. Bush's administration which has been accused of downplaying scientific findings on climate change and genetic research.

Signaling a break with Bush's policies on global warming, Obama named John Holdren, an award-winning environmental policy professor at Harvard University, to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy and co-chair the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Obama called Holdren "one of the most passionate and persistent voices of our time about the growing threat of climate change".

Holdren, 64, led the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international group of prominent scientists that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. He won a MacArthur Foundation "genius award" in 1981 for his arms control work, and a number of environmental science awards.

Holdren, a Washington Beltway insider, served as former president Bill Clinton's science and technology adviser in the 1990s.

Underscoring the importance of genetic research, the president-elect also named Eric Lander and Harold Varmus as co-chairmen of the council of advisors.

Lander is founding director of the Broad Institute, which played a leading role in the Human Genome Project which in 2003 succeeded in mapping the location of about 20,500 genes on the 23 pairs of human chromosomes.

Lander and his colleagues are using these findings to explore the molecular mechanisms underlying the basis of human disease, a field that could hold the key to curing many incurable diseases, Obama aides said.

Varmus, a co-recipient of a 1989 Nobel prize for studies of the genetic basis of cancer, has served as president and chief executive of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York since January 2000.

Obama expressed confidence that together the two men will "remake" the group "into a vigorous external advisory council" that will shape his thinking on scientific aspects of his policies.

The nominees also include Jane Lubchenco, a world-renowned environmental expert and marine biologist from Oregon, who will head up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency that monitors global weather patterns and issues major storm forecasts.

These recent picks, along with the naming of Nobel-prize laureate physicist Steven Chu last week to head the Department of Energy, indicated Obama will work to unwind the energy and climate change policies of the Bush administration, which refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

"None of the great interlinked challenges of our time -- the economy, energy, environment, health, security, and the particular vulnerabilities of the poor to shortfalls in all of these -- can be solved without insights and advances from the physical sciences, the life sciences, and engineering," Holdren said in a statement Friday.

Obama made no direct reference to a controversial 2001 decision by Bush to limit federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, despite pleas by many scientists who believe it could offer promise in fighting degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The decision had been made under pressure from religious conservative groups that argued such research could violate the sanctity of human life.

The president-elect warned that promoting science is "about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology," an apparent reference to the Bush administration's response to research on global warming.

"It's about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it's inconvenient -- especially when it's inconvenient."

The nominations came as Obama, who will move into the White House on January 20, rounded out his cabinet.

On Friday, he tapped Democratic Representative Hilda Solis of California as labor secretary and former Republican Congressman Ray LaHood of Illinois as transportation secretary.

Obama left Saturday for Hawaii, where he will spend the Christmas holidays with family and friends but will continue to do transition work, his office said.

The following video was posted to President-elect Obama's Web site, Change.gov, on Saturday, Dec. 20.

With wire reports