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Stem-Cell Restrictions Lifted

Obama also promises to return scientific integrity to government decision making.
March 9, 2009

Stem-cell scientists aren’t the only ones celebrating today. In addition to signing an executive order that will lift federal funding restrictions for embryonic stem-cell research, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum aimed at restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. Hopefully, that will help bring an end to what has been broadly viewed as a dark time for science, with political and religious views hijacking high-level scientific discourse.

According to his statement, made earlier today,

This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let’s be clear: promoting science isn’t just about providing resources–it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient–especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda–and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

By doing this, we will ensure America’s continued global leadership in scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs. That is essential not only for our economic prosperity, but for the progress of all humanity.

That is why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals–to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.

You can read the full remarks here.

Doug Melton, codirector of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, has been instrumental in pushing stem-cell research forward despite funding restrictions. In a statement issued this morning, Melton gives a personal perspective on the difficulties of the past eight years:

On a personal level, it is an enormous relief and a time for celebration. It is a relief from the bureaucratic and accounting nightmares that have slowed our work, discouraged young scientists, and delayed progress for nearly 8 years. It is a relief to know that we can now collaborate openly and freely with other scientists in our own University and elsewhere, without restrictions on what equipment, data, or ideas can be shared. Science thrives when there is an open and collaborative exchange, not when there are artificial barriers, silos, constructed by the government.

But this is to me a day that marks an important change in spirit, in our national outlook. I think sometimes of how August 9, 2001 was a dark day for science and for America because political ideology was used to define how science should be done. I am going to gather my lab at 11:45 in our tea room to celebrate. And here I mean celebrate listening to our nation’s leader, President Obama, state forcibly that science should guide policies, scientific facts should inform our thinking and decisions. Science as a way of knowing is a very powerful tool for good and it is liberating to hear that science, not political ideology, will guide the Obama Administration in its decisions. I was always uncomfortable being put in the position of being an opponent to my own government, being set up in opposition to what the previous Administration implied was an ethical approach to science when in fact it was not an ethical decision made on 8 August, 2001, but a political decision. I am deeply happy to say that those days are done.

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