Good time for a science speech

GOOD TIME FOR A SCIENCE SPEECH…. Coincidentally, President Obama was scheduled to deliver a speech at the National Academy of Sciences this morning anyway. Given the headlines, the timing worked out nicely.

President Obama said on Monday that the growing number of cases of swine flu in the United States and abroad was “not a cause for alarm,” but he sought to assure Americans that the government was taking precautions to prepare for the prospect of a global health pandemic.

“We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States,” Mr. Obama said, speaking at the National Academy of Sciences. “This is obviously the cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert, but it’s not a cause for alarm.” […]

Mr. Obama said the swine flu outbreak underscored the need for a larger investment in scientific research in the United States. He said science should not be seen as a luxury, but rather as a key element of the nation’s security.

“Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than it has ever been before,” Mr. Obama said. “If there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it is today.”

Quite right. In fact, Obama was able to put the current concerns in the larger context, and make a very compelling case for a renewed and robust investment in scientific research. Alex Koppelman reported:

The solution Obama has in mind is an unprecedented level of investment in the sciences — more, even, than the country spent during the Space Race. “A half century ago, this nation made a commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation… That was the high water mark of America’s investment in research and development. Since then our investments have steadily declined as a share of our national income — our GDP. As a result, other countries are now beginning to pull ahead in the pursuit of this generation’s great discoveries,” he said.

“I believe it is not in our American character to follow — but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than three percent of our GDP to research and development… This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history.”

It’s possible my expectations were decimated by the Bush years, but I can’t think of a modern president who speaks as often and as enthusiastically about science as Obama. Given the circumstances, it’s extremely encouraging.