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At NAS, Obama Calls for 'Historic Investment' in Basic Science

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – In a speech to the National Academy of Sciences this morning, US President Barack Obama argued his case for increasing funding in basic science, particularly increases in the White House's budget proposal for 2010, and a plan to double the budgets for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Obama said that the US is in danger of slipping from its lead spot in science innovation and called for "a historic investment" in research and education that would fuel innovation as the GI Bill did a half-century ago.

The president covered several bases in the speech, including advocating for increased support of biomedical research, and he described his plans for a science advisory council and named three of its members.

Obama also argued for making the research and development tax credit permanent, and proposed a new energy-focused agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), based on the model of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Obama noted that his President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology will be led by Co-Chairs Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and former head of the National Institutes of Health Harold Varmus, and by John Holdren, who also serves as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the White House. He had announced those appointees back in December, before he was sworn in as president.

"I will charge PCAST with advising me about national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation," Obama said.

"In biomedicine, for example, this will include harnessing the historic convergence between life sciences and physical sciences that is underway today; undertaking public projects – in the spirit of the Human Genome Project – to create data and capabilities that fuel discoveries in tens of thousands of laboratories; and identifying and overcoming scientific and bureaucratic barriers to rapidly translating scientific breakthroughs into diagnostics and therapeutics that serve patients," he continued.

The speech covered a range of issues, emphasizing US competitiveness in science and new and renewable energy sources and efficiency advances, and although the focus was not biomedicine or molecular biology, it delved into the way that advances in basic science in one area can feed into others — for example, the way that the technology used in CAT scans came not from biology, but physics.

"And because of recent progress – not just in biology, genetics, and medicine, but also in physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering – we have the potential to make enormous progress against diseases in the coming decades," said Obama. "That is why my administration is committed to increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health, including $6 billion to support cancer research, part of a sustained, multi-year plan to double cancer research in our country."

The White House today also unveiled a new Office of Science & Technology Policy blog that is aimed at fostering an exchange of ideas about science policy and generating discussion about how to best implement the goals of advancing science and pushing innovation.

"As part of this effort, we've already launched a website that allows individuals to not only make recommendations to achieve this goal, but to collaborate on those recommendations; it is a small step, but one that is creating a more transparent, participatory and democratic government," Obama said in a statement.

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