Among the many sweeping changes made in the early days of the Biden presidency, one has been a new and welcome addition to the presidential cabinet. The director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been officially elevated to a cabinet-level position. This change has been well-received among the scientific community, as it is seen as a shift in policymaking that will focus more heavily on facts and logic. Now the question is: what does this mean for our country, and what is our new president planning to accomplish by doing this?
Eric Lander has been appointed to fill this esteemed position. Between 2009 and 2017, Lander co-chaired President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Outside of his involvement in the Whitehouse, Lander was honored with the MacArthur Fellowship, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Albany Prize in Medicine and Biological Research, and ten more additional awards from several different countries and top universities for his extensive research and breakthroughs in the study of the human genome. Due to his studies in genetics, Lander has a thorough understanding of viruses and how they function: His extensive knowledge and experience will likely have much bearing on how President Biden chooses to approach the ever ever-present COVID-19 pandemic.
Prefacing this historic decision, President Biden highlighted his motives in a letter to Lander, declaring that “science [would] always be at the forefront of [his] administration,” and that “[the] world-renowned scientists [in his cabinet] will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth.” He further backed up this statement in his letter by including five points outlining exactly what he envisioned science could do for the United States over the next four years. He further asked Lander in the letter how he could “ensure the long-term health of science and technology in our nation,” and then expanded on that by delving into how we could achieve this through reigniting the fire of discovery in our nation. Through this discovery, he claimed we would once again begin “reaching celestial heights, and microscopic complexities” in all facets of science,” hinting that he would like to see research on the magnitude of the Space Race and current and past Vaccine Research.
President Biden further extended his thoughts in this letter to other pressing issues facing our country that science could play a crucial role in. He prodded Lander with questions regarding the role of science in restarting the economy and fueling job growth. He then moved into how this could assist our future generations with combatting bioterrorism and deadly pathogens that our world so intensely struggles against. On top of all of that, Biden made it very clear that these advancements were for the good of everyone. Every discovery, every breakthrough, and every advancement should be open and accessible to the entire American population, and should not be hindered due to geography, socioeconomic status, race, or gender. Furthermore, he expressed that representation from each of these groups will have equal footing in making said spectacular discoveries.
The letter and subsequent claims were well-aligned with President Biden’s commitment to addressing diversity in the nation, as well as the ever-looming threat of the coronavirus. This may mark a change in how the pandemic is handled, the speed of the vaccine rollout, and the potential of tightened lockdowns. While it is not completely clear what Eric Lander will do in his position, it is reassuring that a renowned and well-established scientist is now a primary advisor to our president. With a savant such as Eric Lander leading the charge, our country can continue tearing down the brick walls of the unknown while rebuilding the life-saving and life-changing technology of the future.