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When Will Obama Restore Science?

The previous administration was hostile to science. Political appointees, who believed that the notion of global warming was a “liberal thing,” often trumped scientist writing about global warming and the “greenhouse effect.” Attempts were made to insert Creationism into the curriculum. Funding was banned for embryonic stem cell research. The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) neglected lead laden toys while wagging war on science education.

Obama has placed scientists in key positions. He promises to reinstate funding for embryonic stem cell research. Obama’s stimulus package provides for an increase in basic science research and immediate construction of green energy projects. A movement is under way to remove Nord as head of the CPSC.

Steven Chu, Nobel-prizewinning physicist and research manager, is certainly qualified to head the Department of Energy. Chu needs to spend $40 Billion on green energy quickly, but DOE does not yet have a list of priorities. A smart grid is slated to receive $11 billion of which $6.5 billion will go to ongoing projects in the Northwest.

Chu has called “clean coal” his “worst nightmare,” but the coal lobby was successful in getting it into the stimulus package. FutureGen is the scariest part of his nightmare. Abandoned by the Bush Administration for costly overruns, it’s a research coal plant that’s supposed to pump CO2 into the ground.

FutureGen was then supposed to be supported by partnerships in the coal industry. Despite claims of “clean coal” ads, FutureGen died for lack of interest and money from the coal industry. Chu wants through studies before investing any money into FutureGen.

Many research groups are disappointed with Obama’s inaction on stem cell funding. They point to President Clinton’s executive order, immediately after taking office, lifting the moratorium on fetal transplant research ordered by the previous Bush.

Some in the Obama Administration believe that it may take more than an executive order to start embryonic stem cell funding. Such an order may contravene the Dickey-Wicker amendment and will thus require legislation, which will be the priority of the next Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Obama has yet to replace many of the political appointees heading regulatory agencies that require a technology background. Bush appointee Nancy Nord, head of CPSC, is such an example.

After hearing considerable testimony from scientists that lead present in some toys could cause irreparable neurological damage in young children, Congress enacted laws to prevent sales of these toys. These laws would have taken effect February 10, 2009, but Nord granted vendors a year stay claiming that these laws did not give them time to liquidate their inventories, and would thus cut into their profits.

February 3, 2009, Senator Mark Pryor and Jay Rockefeller together with representative Bobby Rush and Henry Waxman sent a letter to Obama saying that Nancy Nord has “grossly mishandled” the implementation of legislation.

Meantime, the CPSC continued its champagne against educational science supply houses ostensibly to crackdown on homemade firecrackers. This is absurd to anyone that knows anything about chemistry since powerful explosives can be made from household chemicals. Gunpowder can be purchased in gun stores.

The CPSC has raided and sized the records of at least one science supply house as a means of intimidation. If the science supply houses were breaking any laws, it would be easy to stop them.

The National Fire Protective Association published an exhaustive analysis of firework related injuries and fires. This NFPA report concluded that 90% of firework injuries are from legal fireworks. Only 3% are from homemade or modified fireworks. If any of this 3% are the result of chemicals purchased from science supply houses, the report fails to mention it.

The American Chemical Society in accord with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has created a Home Chemical Hygiene Plan, which instructs teachers, and parents on how to set-up a safe school or home labs for aspiring young scientist. Apparently, the folks at OSHA don’t believe that ignorance is bliss.

Photo Credit: OPENCLIPART/DynV Common License

Also See:

Pork in the Obama Stimulus Package? You Decide….

Wolves in Green Fleece: Are “Clean Coal” Ads a Scam?

Written by Fred Etcheverry

Fred Etcheverry lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife Elsa. He is a freelance high-tech B2B (Business-to-Business) copywriter usually for clients in the nearby Silicon Valley. He is also an engineering consultant and teaches courses in industry and college on computers and electronics. When he is doing none of the above, he swims in the Monterey Bay, hikes in the Santa Cruz redwood forests, visits his adult children, or goes to art galleries, plays and operas with Elsa and friends.


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