Celebrating science

CELEBRATING SCIENCE…. A few months after his inauguration, President Obama was showing so much passion for science and scientific integrity that one observer characterized him as “almost strident” on the issue. The description put a negative spin on what I consider to be one of the president’s more endearing qualities — I can’t think of a modern president who speaks as often and as enthusiastically about science as Obama.

Indeed, nearly a year ago, the president announced that, from now on, there will be an annual White House Science Fair. Obama explained at the time, “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example. We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

With that in mind, Jonathan Cohn notes that today is “Geek Day” at the White House, and in this context, that’s definitely a good thing.

Today at the White House President Obama hosts another group of students who won a national championship. But it’s not the hockey team from Boston College or the swimmers from Texas. It’s the Rock’n’Roll Robots from Southern California.

And who are the Rock’n’Roll Robots? I’m glad you asked. They’re a group of Girl Scouts who were part of a team that won a national robot-building competition for students. They’re among more than 80 students the White House is honoring as part of its first annual Science Fair. […]

I’m sure this is not the first group of accomplished student innovators to win White House recognition. But I don’t recall past presidents giving the event the trappings of a sports championship visit. And while it’s just a public relations event, it also sends a broader message about the value this administration and its allies place on intellectual achievement.

Damn straight. America’s future depends on our willingness to make a real commitment to innovation, science, research, and intellectual pursuits. I consider it a huge step in the right direction that we’ve gone from a semi-literate president who publicly and repeatedly mocked those with post-graduate degrees, to a president hosting a White House Science Fair.

Indeed, it shouldn’t be this way, but there is a political undercurrent to all of this. It’s tragic, but Republican hostility towards science, evidence, and reason speaks to the larger inability of the GOP to shape effective public policy, and the apparent cultural divide over the value of intellectual achievements.

In 2010, the nation’s leading Democrat is a president who values science, innovation, and learning. On the flip side, one of the nation’s leading Republicans is a former half-term governor who rejects modern biology, considers climate science “snake oil“, and who disdains elites with “Ivy League educations.”

Whether the United States is able to maintain its role as the global leader will depend on which side of this divide wins.

Postscript: At the Science Fair today, the president will announce his appearance on an upcoming episode of “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel. I find this exciting because, well, I love “Mythbusters.”