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On Science and the Obama Administration

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If you like to worry about things, you might be having the time of your life. We've got a financial crisis, which is part and parcel with a mortgage crisis and an employment crisis. We've got Human Immunodeficiency Viruses. We've got cancer. We have pure corruption creating filthy water, starvation diets, and fundamentally horrible living conditions for billions of our fellow humans.

Then, we've got climate change, which may indeed kill almost of all us in the next couple of centuries. Worse yet, climate change may lead to the inadvertent dismantling of our remarkable infrastructure. No means of feeding most of us may lead to no means of making electricity for most of us, and that might very well lead to the destruction of our electronic information storage facilities -- our libraries. Now, that would be serious. It would be like the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria around the first century, only we won't need any scared-crazy emperors or other dark forces to do it; everyone will be responsible.

Grim as all this sounds (or reads), as Barack Obama begins his administration with his lovely family alongside, I find myself as a science educator, not just relieved, but downright, maybe upright, optimistic. All of the problems I just mentioned are, at their cores, science problems. If you want to cure a disease, feed a population, or educate and thereby raise the living standard of women in matters that are universally true and real, you need to embrace the process of science. President-elect Obama, in contrast with his predecessor, is fundamentally in favor of science. This is the best news possible, not just for niche workers like me, but for everyone.

If you think about it, well, even if you don't, the President of the United States, for better or for worse, affects every species on Earth. Oh, there might be a seafaring virus living on or around deep sea scalding-water vents, that is unconcerned. But if you're an elephant, a whale, a robust fly, who vectors some exquisitely-evolved misery-causing virus, a tree growing in the shifting borderlands of your species, or an African girl finding her way in school as best she can, you are affected by what the United States does and therewith what this president does. It's real and serious.

Science, more succinctly the process of science, is the best idea humans have ever had. It is the way that we come to know the natural world we're part of. Our ability to observe and understand causes and effects in nature has led to our ability to feed billions, map the world, shape cities, forecast weather on Mars -- and to dream. We, like no species we know of, understand a little bit of what makes the Universe go 'round. Science is empowering like nothing else.

For years, scientists, enlightened engineers, entrepreneurs, and anyone concerned with the future have worried as the United States' science has waned. Science had been marginalized, regarded as another special interest. But actually, science is of the broadest interest, the most inclusive discipline there is. Everyone is a scientist at heart by way of her and his ability to reason.

At last, we will have a president, who understands the value of investing in science and especially science and math education. With a scientifically literate society, we can bring the United States up to its full potential -- and it is a great potential. The President-elect speaks often of change. He's right; we need it, and he's right; we can bring it about. I am excited indeed for the new days ahead. Congratulations Mr. President. Welcome to Washington (my home town). Let's change the world.