President-elect Barack Obama named four top science advisors in his radio address yesterday. As reported widely last week, John Holdren will be his chief science adviser, as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, and Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, will direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Lubchenco, 61, will be the first woman to hold the NOAA post if she is confirmed by the Senate. As the Washington Post noted last week, she has been an outspoken critic of NOAA, saying they do not do enough to prevent overfishing. Holdren advised Obama during the presidential campaign and directs of the program on science, technology, and public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Taken together with Obama's choice of Steven Chu as secretary of energy, the appointments suggest that Obama's stance on climate change will be significantly different from that of his predecessor.
Obama also named the chairs of the Presidential Council of Advisers on Science and Technology yesterday: Nobel Prize winner Harold Varmus and MIT genome biologist Eric Lander.
Varmus, who turned 69 last week, shared the 1989 Nobel for the discovery of viral genes that cause cancer and has had Obama's ear on science. He is the president of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He has also been a staunch supporter of the open access movement, which gives the public access to published research, and has called for a global science corps, similar to the Peace Corps, in which scientists would spend time in the developing world.
From 1993 until 2000, Varmus was director of the National Institutes of Health, where he loosened conflict of interest rules to make it easier for the agency to attract top scientists, a move that some say paved the way for later significant breaches in which some NIH scientists earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug companies. Following investigations in 2003 by the Los Angeles Times and members of Congress into such deals, Varmus later backed limiting the deals such scientists could make.
Lander, 51, was a major player in the Human Genome Project. Both he and Varmus support increased funding for scientific research. (Listen to Varmus describe his feelings on the Bush administration's science policies in a 2006 episode of Science Talk.)
Photo of Jane Lubchenco courtesy of the Obama-Biden Transition Project