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Biden-Harris Science Team Nominations Show the Importance of Diverse Leadership

Science adviser elevated to cabinet-level position for the first time in history

Lauren Everett
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“This is the most exciting announcement I’ve gotten to make,” said US President Joe Biden on January 16, 2021 in Wilmington, DE, as he introduced each of his science team appointees. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both emphasized their commitment to enable the acceleration of scientific development during the next four years.

“President Biden and I will not only listen to science; we will invest in it. So [that] we can achieve breakthroughs—from strengthening public health, to tackling climate change, to jumpstarting job creation and economic growth,” said Harris.

While it is clear that science and research will be a priority in the new administration, Biden and Harris have not yet specified how exactly they will invest in the sciences from a monetary standpoint.

Each of the science advisor appointees expressed their eagerness to help solve some of the country’s greatest challenges, including but not limited to, the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

Biden called upon his scientific advisors to focus on five key areas: 

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic and learning lessons from it to address public health needs
  2. The economy and how to ensure prosperity for all Americans through innovation
  3. How to face the climate crisis
  4. Ensuring the US can lead the world in the technologies industry, addressing competition from China and other countries
  5. How to ensure long-term health and build trust in science and technology in our nation

Biden first introduced his nominee for director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Eric S. Lander, the director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University. Lander will also serve as the presidential science advisor, which Biden elevated to a cabinet position for the first time in history. 

“We have to ensure that everyone not only has a seat at the table, but a place at the lab bench.”

Dr. Alondra Nelson, professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and president of the Social Science Research Council, was nominated for deputy director of the OSTP. 

Biden selected Dr. Frances Arnold, the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Maria Zuber, the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission, as co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Biden also announced that Dr. Francis Collins will stay on as director of the National Institutes of Health.

A recurring message among the speeches from the president, vice president, and appointees was the emphasis on diversity and inclusion. 

“America’s asset—I think—is our unrivaled diversity,” said Lander, adding that the root of scientific progress is found in individuals who see something in a way no one has before, because they bring a different lens, different experiences, and passions. Lander added, “We have to ensure that everyone not only has a seat at the table, but a place at the lab bench.” 

Nelson echoed a similar message, stating, “We have an incredible window of opportunity ahead of us to approach our science and technology policy in ways that are honest and inclusive.” 

Harris, the daughter of a scientist, concluded the event by emphasizing that the new administration’s investment in the sciences also includes an investment in STEM education. She explained that the next generation of scientists, including women and people of color, should dream big, and have the opportunity to “be heroes.” 

A recording of the announcements and speeches can be viewed below: 

C-Span