15 Science Policy Quotes from 2015: Year in Review

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Publication date: 
14 January 2016

A selection of 15 sets of quotations from national leaders, policymakers, scientific community leaders, and scientists, captures some of the science policy debates and outcomes of 2015.

House America COMPETES legislation ruffles the scientific community and NSF relations with Congress

“I would like more than anything to be able to support a bipartisan reauthorization of the COMPETES Act. Unfortunately, that’s not what we have before us today, and I can’t support a bill that violates every one of the basic principles that underlay the original COMPETES Act.”

  • Ranking Member of the House Science Committee Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), at an April business meeting during which the committee approved the “America COMPETES Act of 2015” along party lines


“The reputation of the NSF is the greatest in the world. We’ll do everything in this committee to help protect you from political interference, whether it be from the right or the left. But do be keenly aware that you’ve got a marvelous reputation to protect and be conscious that the dollars we [the appropriators] spend are hard earned, and very precious, and very scarce.”

  • John Culberson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, at a Mar. 17 appropriations hearing


“I do want to mention and applaud the steps taken by NSF to improve transparency and accountability.  NSF’s new policy acknowledges the need for NSF to communicate clearly and in non-technical terms when the agency describes the research projects it funds.

The new policy also emphasizes that the title and abstract for each funded grant should act as the public justification for NSF funding. It should explain how the project serves the national interest and is consistent with the NSF mission, as set forth in the 1950 legislation that created the Foundation.”

  • House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), at an Feb. 26 hearing with top National Science Foundation officials


“Why are we here today considering this legislation? We all claim to bemoan the loss of American scientific competitiveness, and then we turn around and consider a bill that would only add rigid and time consuming bureaucratic requirements that stifle the exact kind of curiosity driven research that has made us a world leader. The NSF merit review process is known as the gold standard for a reason. And the claim that this bill would somehow restore accountability and merit to this process carries with it the presupposition that the system is broken. As a scientist who has watched the operation of the peer review and merit review process throughout my career, I do not share this belief. And so I urge my colleagues to oppose this bill.”

  • Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), a physicist and the only Ph.D. scientist currently serving in Congress, at a business meeting to consider House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s “Science in the National Interest Act”


President Obama channels the scientific consensus on climate change

“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does -- 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act.  Well, I’m not a scientist, either.  But you know what -- I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.  The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.  The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it.”

  • President Barack Obama, during his State of the Union address on Jan. 21


House Science Committee chairman threatens legal action against NOAA, American Meteorological Society responds

“Your failure to comply with the Committee’s subpoena has...thwarted the Committee’s constitutional obligation to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. … It is not the position of NOAA to determine what is, or is not, responsive to the Committee’s investigation or whether certain communications are confidential. … Deficiencies in NOAA’s response to the Committee’s request raises serious concerns about what role officials at NOAA, including political appointees, had in the decision to adjust the temperature data and widely publicize conclusions based on those adjustments.”

  • House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), in a letter dated Nov. 4 to NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan


“Singling out specific research studies, and implicitly questioning the integrity of the researchers conducting those studies, can be viewed as a form of intimidation that could deter scientists from freely carrying out research on important national challenges. ... The demand for internal communications associated with their research places a burden on NOAA scientists, imposes a chilling effect on future communication among scientists, and potentially disrupts NOAA’s critical efforts to protect life and property.”

  • American Meteorological Society Executive Director Keith Seitter, in a letter delivered to Smith on Nov. 4


Energy Secretary underscores role of nuclear physics in Iran nuclear agreement

“The agreement – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- is built upon a foundation of deep nuclear science and technology.  … The broad and deep expertise of the scientists and engineers at DOE’s national laboratories and nuclear security sites was brought to bear on the Iran negotiations from the start.  Indeed, the decades of nuclear security experience and ingenuity of this dedicated workforce forms the foundation on which our confidence in the effectiveness of the agreement rests.”

  • Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, in remarks at the University of Colorado School of Law on Aug. 30


Key Senate appropriator proposes doubling of energy research

“One of our biggest challenges is the need to increase government sponsored research. It’s hard to think of an important technological advance since World War II that has not involved at least some government sponsored research, which is why I’ve proposed to double energy research.

Take for example our latest energy boom, natural gas. The development of unconventional gas was enabled in part by 3D mapping at Sandia National Lab in New Mexico and the Department of Energy’s large-scale demonstration project. Then our free enterprise system, and our tradition of private ownership of mineral rights, capitalized on the research.

Another example is the work being done on small reactors, which would allow nuclear power to be produced without as high of capital investment and to be accessible in more places.”

  • Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TX), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy-Water, at a Feb. 5 speech before the Nuclear Energy Institute


Energy Secretary hails establishment of Manhattan Project National Historical Park

“The Department of Energy traces its origin to the innovative scientists and engineers of the Manhattan Project and the work that followed through the Atomic Energy Commission. This park will commemorate one of this country’s greatest scientific and engineering achievements. It also celebrates the contributions of communities that were created for this purpose and have continued as partners for DOE’s mission. The Manhattan Project laid the groundwork for our National Lab system which has led to countless scientific breakthroughs that benefit humanity.”

  • Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at a November signing ceremony alongside Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park


Professor of physics testifies on importance of helium to scientific research

“For many scientists, including me, liquid helium is our professional lifeblood.”

  • William Halperin, Professor of Physics at Northwestern University and chair of the American Physical Society’s Division of Condensed Matter Physics, at a July 8 hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee on the implementation of the Helium Stewardship Act


NASA continues to reach for the planets and stars

“Today’s a huge day for those of you sitting around and look like you’re a lot younger than I am.  If you’re students, try to remember where you were this morning. This is not like Neil Armstrong walking on the surface of the moon, but this morning the United States became the only nation in the history of humanity to visit every single planet in our solar system. That’s a big deal… I get emotional about that because that’s a big deal.”

  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, tearing up at a July 14 meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology


“We study the planets in our solar system to answer fundamental questions about where we come from, how the solar system came to be, and in the search for life beyond the Earth. Space exploration is difficult, requiring our best and brightest engineers and scientists to succeed, and when we develop innovative probes to explore the solar system, we invent technologies which improve our lives here on planet Earth.”

  • John Grunsfeld, NASA Associate Administrator for Science at a July 28 hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee


“NASA is leading our nation and our world on a journey to Mars. Like the Apollo Program, we embark on this journey for all humanity. Unlike Apollo, we will be going to stay. This is a historic pioneering endeavor—a journey made possible by a sustained effort of science and exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit with successively more capable technologies and partnerships.”

  • The opening words of NASA’s Journey to Mars report, released in October


NASA Administrator idolizes National Medal of Freedom recipient

“Katherine Johnson once remarked that even though she grew up in the height of segregation, she didn’t think much about it because ‘I didn’t have time for that… I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.’

The truth in fact, is that Katherine is indeed better. She’s one of the greatest minds ever to grace our agency or our country, and because of the trail she blazed, young Americans like my granddaughters can pursue their own dreams without a feeling of inferiority.”

  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a November statement celebrating the President’s awarding of the National Medal of Freedom to Katherine Johnson, a former NASA mathematician and physicist


President Obama anticipates hard work of implementing Every Student Succeeds Act

“It’s a Christmas miracle, a bipartisan bill signing. Now the hard work begins.”

  • President Barack Obama on Dec. 10, as he signed the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, which replaced the much-maligned No Child Left Behind K-12 education law and includes a number of new program and funding streams for K-12 STEM education


President Obama speaks on how science is an approach to the world worth celebrating

“. . . these young scientists and engineers teach us something beyond the specific topics that they’re exploring. They teach us how to question assumptions; to wonder why something is the way it is, and how we can make it better.  And they remind us that there’s always something more to learn, and to try, and to discover, and to imagine -- and that it’s never too early, or too late to create or discover something new.

That’s why we love science.  It’s more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world, and to share this accumulated knowledge.  It’s a mindset that says we that can use reason and logic and honest inquiry to reach new conclusions and solve big problems.  And that’s what we are celebrating here today with these amazing young people.”

  • President Barack Obama, in a speech at the White House Science Fair on Mar. 24


Science evangelist stresses the importance of exercising our imagination

“Education must change.  It used to be that we said that knowledge is power, but this is no longer the case because knowledge is now all stored in Google.  The difference is not what you know now but what you do with it.  It’s the imagination that is the power.  What makes us human is the ability to piece together things that haven’t gone together before.”

  • Self-titled science evangelist Ainissa Ramirez, speaking at the 2015 Andrew Gemant public lecture on July 28 at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers


Deputy Education Secretary laments disparities in STEM education at K-12 schools

“I think the challenge is there are really two grades. There are places where we should get an A and there are places where we should get more like a D, frankly. The places where we should get an A, we have lots of schools around the country that are doing a fantastic job preparing students who go on to higher education and excel in STEM fields…. On the other hand, we have schools that don’t have that. A quarter of the schools that have the largest number of African American and Latino students don’t even offer Algebra 2. About a third of them don’t even offer chemistry.”

  • John King, Jr., then Deputy Secretary of Education, at a Sept. 10 event hosted by the Washington Post called Balancing the STEM Equation


House appropriations subcommittee chairman urges NASA to follow lead of scientific community

“I really want to see NASA focus on those Decadal Surveys, I really think that’s the proper guide. I’d like to…help make sure that NASA is following the recommendations of the Decadal Survey in Heliophysics and Earth Sciences and Astrophysics as well.  … That’s my North Star, just to make sure that we’re following the recommendations of the best minds in the scientific community in each of these areas of specialty.”

  • Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, at a March 4 appropriations hearing


Top Department of Defense officials warn of consequences of declining R&D budgets

“Technological superiority depends upon a steady stream of investments in research and development. Over the past decade, the budget has declined precipitously. Coupled with the rise in capabilities developed by others, the nation is at increased national security risk.”

  • Alan Shaffer, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, on the impacts of federal budget sequestration, at a March 26 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee


“We urge you to support all of this valuable work. But most of all, we urge you to permanently repeal the threat of sequestration. Removing this specter would do more than any other single act to spur innovation and preserve our military technological superiority.”

  • Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, at an April 22 hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense



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