President commits more than 3% of GDP to research & development
In a recent announcement, President Barack Obama reiterated his administration's focus on science by promising a new level of commitment—one that would have the same intensity and urgency as that which put Americans on the moon—and stressing that "the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over."
"We have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas," said Mr. Obama.
Speaking at the 146th National Academy of Science annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Mr. Obama pledged to raise spending on research and development to more than three percent of the nation's gross domestic product, an increase of approximately $46 billion annually. "This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history," said the President.
The federal share of the proposed increase on scientific research and development is in the ballpark of $15 billion — $15 billion that is no easy sell in today's tough economic climate.
The scientific commitment made by President Obama is particularly poignant when contrasted with a Bush administration that was often perceived as ignoring — and even altering — scientific findings that did not jive with political agendas [see: Bush Administration Just Says No to Science
"We have finally closed the books on the Bush era of climate denial once and for all," said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, in a statement. "Science is allowed to lead and agencies like the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency are once again in the business of protecting the public and our planet," Pope said.
Much of President Obama's remarks centered on the role of math and science in developing a new ways to create and save energy, stressing that faith in scientific inquiry should be embraced, not shunned, in the face of difficult challenges like global climate change. "Our future on this planet depends on our willingness to address the challenge posed by carbon pollution," said Mr. Obama. "And our future as a nation depends upon our willingness to embrace this challenge as an opportunity to lead the world in pursuit of new discovery."
Finally funding for ARPA-E
The President also announced for the first time that the the government would be funding an initiative recommended by the NAS called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E). Authorized by Congress in 2007, ARPA-E is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was created during the Eisenhower administration in response to Sputnik and charged throughout its history with conducting the kind of high-risk, high-reward research that produced the ARPANET (the precursor to the internet), stealth technology, and Global Positioning Systems.
Specifically, the aims of ARPA-E are to: enhance our economic security by identifying technologies with the potential to reduce energy imports from foreign sources; reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions; and improve efficiency across the energy spectrum.
President Obama said that to rise to the challenge of global climate change, the United States "will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race."
The executive commitment to scientific advancement made by President Obama has given the scientific community, broadly speaking, lots to cheer about. However, translating science into policy or regulatory action is often only as good as the institutional structures and linkages in which scientific findings are communicated and acted upon.