Surprise: Scientists for Obama

Let's not kid ourselves: an endorsement by scientists is unlikely to sway many voters next week. But the decision by 76 American Nobel laureates—including all three of the Americans who won one of the science prizes this year—is notable for one thing: if you think ordinary Americans believe the last eight years have been a nightmare, you should see how scientists feel. As documented over and over, especially by Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the politicization of science by this administration has set records. Scientists are furious and can’t wait for it to end.

The letter by the 76 Nobelists (only 47 endorsed John Kerry in 2004) argues that the nation needs “a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness,” concluding that “Barack Obama is such a leader.” The scientists are particularly dismayed that, under Bush, America’s “once dominant position in the scientific world has been shaken and our prosperity has been placed at risk. We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security, and improve our economy.”

I have spoken at a couple events recently where scientists asked me why scientific issues—stem cells, research spending and the like—have played such a small role (make that “no role”) in the 2008 campaign. I am always sorry to tell them that science issues hardly matter to most Americans, especially compared to the imploding economy. It would be foolish to think that scientists’ view on politics carries any weight with most Americans either. But the letter, organized by Scientists and Engineers for America, underscores one thing. For much of what ails this country, from international competitiveness to energy independence (by which I mean independent not only of OPEC but of fossil fuels), science is the key to a solution.