TS Picks: Obama’s Science Legacy

During his two terms in office, President Barack Obama pushed for action on climate change, injected “innovation” into science and tech, bet big on biomedical research, and published papers in peer-reviewed journals. Here’s a look at his efforts to “put science in its rightful place.”

Joshua A. Krisch
Jan 16, 2017


Selections from The Scientist’s reading list:

  • Outgoing US President Barack Obama is confident that the trend toward clean energy is irreversible, even under a potentially hostile Trump administration, according to Quartz. In a commentary published January 9 in Science, Obama presented his case. (Altogether, Obama authored 13 articles published in peer-reviewed journals while president, Quartz noted.)
  • Reflecting on Obama’s climate legacy, which included leading the United States into the historic Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, the president’s science advisor John Holdren told Scientific American that the U.S. “should want to stay in the leadership of the global battle against climate change.”
  • “Nearly eight years ago, President Obama pledged to put science ‘in its rightful place’ in his administration,” Holdren wrote in a White House blog post. “He proceeded to keep that pledge in ways and degrees that few could have imagined at the time.”
  • One of the hallmarks of Obama’s approach to science and technology is his emphasis on turning theory into practice. “One visible sign of the importance the Obama administration placed on making sure research results made it out of labs and into practice was the expansion of the phrase ‘science and technology’ (S&T) to ‘science, technology, and innovation’ (ST&I) by president Obama,” history professor Jonathan Coopersmith of Texas A&M University wrote at The Conversation.
  • Obama lauched three major biomedical research initiatives during his time in office, a feat that National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins called a “hat-trick” in an interview Nature. With the BRAIN Initiative (2013), the Precision Medicine Initiative (2015), and the Cancer Moonshot (2016), Obama solidified his legacy as a champion of the life sciences.While Obama championed science from day one, some argue that his zeal for research and its possibilities didn’t fully translate into meaningful funding. “On the science funding front, there is a bit of divergence between rhetoric and reality,” Matt Hourihan of the American Association for the Advancement of Science told Chemistry World. “The Obama administration does seem to support science, but they have never been able to achieve the yearly funding outcomes that we might have hoped for.”