President Obama on Science and Technology

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Publication date: 
9 October 2009

During the last three weeks President Obama has devoted considerable time to discussing the benefits of science and technology.  On September 21, Obama discussed the value of basic research at a community college in New York.   The following week he was at the National Institutes of Health and remarked:

“We know that the work you do would not get done if left solely to the private sector.  Some research does not lend itself to quick profit.  And that’s why places like the NIH were founded.  And that’s why my administration is making a historic commitment to research and the pursuit of discovery.  And that’s why today we’re announcing that we've awarded $5 billion - that's with a ‘b’ - in grants through the Recovery Act to conduct cutting-edge research all across America, to unlock treatments to diseases that have long plagued humanity, to save and enrich the lives of people all over the world.  This represents the single largest boost to biomedical research in history.”

He later added:

“Breakthroughs in medical research take far more than the occasional flash of brilliance, as important as that can be.  Progress takes time; it takes hard work; it can be unpredictable; it can require a willingness to take risks and going down some blind alleys occasionally - figuring out what doesn't work is sometimes as important as figuring out what does - all of this needs the support of government.  It holds promise like no other area of human endeavor, but we've got to make a commitment to it.”

On Wednesday, the White House hosted two science-related events.  That night, the White House hosted an astronomy event on the back lawn of the White House.  In brief remarks to assembled students the President said:

“So there are a lot of mysteries left and there are a lot of problems for you students to solve.  And I want to be a President who makes sure you have the teachers and the tools that you need to solve them.  And that's why we're working to reinvigorate math and science in your schools and attract new and qualified math and science teachers into your classrooms, some with lifetimes of experience.  That's why we've launched a Race to the Top to raise standards and upgrade your curricula and improve teaching and learning in math and science.  That's why we're making a college education more affordable, so that by the time many of you graduate in 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  And that's how we'll move American students to the top of the pack in math and in science over the next decade, and guarantee that America will lead the world in discovery in this new century.”

Earlier in the day, President Obama awarded the National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation.  In the 25 minute East Room ceremony, the President told the thirteen recipients:

“So this nation owes all of you an enormous debt of gratitude far greater than any medal can bestow.  And we recognize your contributions, but we also celebrate the incredible contributions of the scientific endeavor itself.  We see the promise  -  not just for our economy but for our health and well-being -  in the human capacity for creativity and ingenuity.  And we are reminded of the power of free and open inquiry, which is not only at the heart of all of your work, but at the heart of this experiment we call America.”

He later said:

“At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we can't afford to invest in science, that it's a luxury at a moment defined by necessities.  I could not disagree more.  Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, and our health, and our way of life than it has ever been.  And the winners we are recognizing only underscore that point, with achievements in physics and medicine, computer science and cognitive science, energy technology and biotechnology.  We need to ensure that we are encouraging the next generation of discoveries -- and the next generation of discoverers.

“That's why my administration has set this goal:  by investing in education, funding basic and applied research, and spurring private innovation, we will devote 3 percent of our gross domestic product to research and development.  That's more than at any point in recent history. “And as part of this effort, we're putting in place policies that will move us from the middle to the top of the pack in math and science education over the next decade.  We are challenging states to dramatically improve achievement by raising standards, by improving the use of technology, and by making it possible for professionals like our honorees to bring a lifetime of experience and enthusiasm into the classroom.  And we've also launched a Race to the Top fund to encourage states to compete for the most innovative programs in math and science, as part of a broader effort to foster new ways of engaging young people in these fields.

“The White House is participating, too.  Tonight, in fact, we're bringing children to the South Lawn for a night of astronomy.  I am really looking forward to this.  This is going to be fun.  They'll peer through telescopes, wander through exhibits, and hopefully feel a sense of wonder that might one day lead them here to receive a medal themselves.

“And my administration has set another goal to compete for the jobs of the future and to encourage the scientists and engineers of the future.  By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  We used to be number one.  We have fallen behind.  We are going to regain our position.

“To meet this goal, we've increased the Pell Grant and passed legislation through the House  -  which we're working to pass through the Senate - to end more than $80 billion in wasteful subsidies to lenders and use that money instead to help students.

“Beyond the classroom, the Recovery Act that we passed is funding the largest single boost to biomedical research in history.  My budget makes the research and experimentation tax credit permanent to help companies afford the often high cost of innovation.  I've proposed eliminating the capital gains tax for investments in startups and small companies -- because countless big ideas begin in small businesses.  And we are doubling our capacity in renewable energy, even as we seek to create a system of incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.”

The President continued:

“That's the incredible promise of the work scientists do every day -- like the scientists, researchers, and engineers, and innovators we honor with these medals.  Yes, scientific progress offers us a chance to achieve prosperity and defend our nation.  It has offered us benefits that have improved our lives and our health -- improvements that we often take for granted.  But it also gives us something more.  At root, science forces us to reckon with the truth as best as we can ascertain it, and to reckon with the power that comes from this knowledge -- for good and for ill.  With each new discovery brings new responsibility to move past our differences and to address our shared problems; to embrace a sense of wonder, and our common humanity.”

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