Science: Lander’s enthusiasm can serve Biden well

Pop culture references and all, newly promoted White House science adviser Eric Lander made a splash this week when he talked about Americans positioning themselves to be better prepared for the next pandemic by embracing a renewed respect for science. Viruses weren’t the only thing on his mind, however.

“This is a moment in so many ways, not just health, that we can rethink fundamental assumptions about what’s possible and that’s true of climate and energy and many areas,” Lander told The Associated Press.

Throwing in a Star Trek reference to talk about the possibilities for space exploration, he quoted “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” when Captain James T. Kirk’s love interest asked if he was from outer space. He responded: “I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space.”

Lander is obviously excited about his job. In hoping to make it possible to have a vaccine ready to fight the next pandemic in approximately 100 days after recognizing a potential viral outbreak, however, he makes it clear he hasn’t had much experience with the brick wall that is bureaucracy.

Lander is right to be focused on what we can learn from our response to this pandemic, to become better prepared for the next one. But his enthusiasm about President Joe Biden’s willingness to show “science should have a seat at the table” during high-level talks should not blind him to the realities of working at the scale and speed of a federal government that must in turn depend on state, county and municipal governments.

For Lander, the possibilities seem endless, and that is a good thing, so long as he is willing to account for the realities of a country like the United States AND those around the world who look to us for leadership in such matters. It is heartening to note he already seems to understand “an explosion of ideas” is necessary before we can start talking about viable renewable energy alternatives to the fossil fuels that power our nation today.

He also chose not to delve into the oddly political debate about where our space program should aim next.

“Are we going to go to the moon and are we going to go to Mars and are we going to moons of Jupiter? Sure. The exact order I think is great to think about or great to talk about,” Lander said.

If he is truly to serve the American people, he must continue to steer clear of the political agendas that cloud the science he holds dear. If he is able to do that, he will be a valuable addition to Biden’s cabinet.


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