What Obama Got Right and Wrong This Week

3 March 2009 (All day)

Obama, Obama, Obama. From his "State of the Union"-like speech to Congress, to his new budget, to his seemingly never-ending selection of advisers and Cabinet members, the U.S. president has commanded the science policy spotlight over the past week. Here are some highlights from Science's policy blog, ScienceInsider:

The big news, of course, has been Obama's 2010 budget. Mirroring the enthusiasm that Congress has shown for science in its own budget, the president asked for big boosts for the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA budget includes a $19 million increase to create a greenhouse gas emission inventory--an important step in preparing the United States for a cap-and-trade system (As opposed to the Bush Administration, Obama's White House has no problem linking climate change with ill health). Also seeing green is autism research. Obama requested $211 million as part of the Department of Health and Human Services budget for research into causes and new treatments. But the president isn't showing everyone the money. Fulfilling a campaign promise to oppose plans to build a storage vault for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, Obama's budget scales back funding for the project to the bare minimum necessary.

To many scientists, the president's budget gets a lot right. But in Obama's speech to Congress a couple of days earlier, he got at least one thing wrong. In his remarks, the president promised that his education policies would help more people attend college, ensuring that "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world." The country is already there, however. Data compiled by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, affiliated with the European Union, show that the United States leads the world, with roughly 30% of its adult population holding 4-year college degrees.

In non-U.S. news, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech of his own about science. Challenging the economic gloom that seems to hit the news every day, he assured scientists that U.K. research will not be "a victim of the recession." Brown's address highlighted his vision for science as a driver of the U.K.'s economic future, a desire that has triggered much debate within the scientific community. Meanwhile in Japan, the incoming president of the University of Tokyo dismissed the importance of school rankings. "University research should be not to satisfy individual egos but to enrich the entire society and humanity," he said. And in France, French higher education and research minister Valérie Pécresse made some concessions to academics in hopes of ending the strike against university reforms, now in its fourth week. But the move didn't satisfy all of the trade unions, and another demonstration is planned.

If science policy ranks high on your list of interests, educate yourself with ScienceInsider.