President Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, isn’t kidding when he praises his boss. “I sincerely think [he] is the most science-savvy president since Thomas Jefferson,” he says. “And there’s a lot more science to be savvy about.”
Holdren has his biases, of course. But there is no denying the scientific know-how of the outgoing administration. Obama has called himself a “science geek,” and made science and technology remarkably central to his tenure—from his appointments to lead agencies to his climate change initiatives, from his emphasis on STEM education to the unbridled nerdery he’s displayed at the White House Science Fairs. But what comes next has scientists worried.
Thomas Jefferson was followed in office by James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers and the so-called “Father of the Constitution.” Obama will cede his seat to a real estate developer who thinks hairspray is “not like it used to be” because it no longer contains banned ozone-depleting substances.
Still, Donald Trump could appoint a real, honest-to-god scientist to Holdren’s position as advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Holdren, trained as an engineer and theoretical plasma physicist and with decades of scientific policy experience, has been offering up that substantial expertise for two terms now. Few people know as much about the potential—and limitations—of the president’s right-hand lab coat.
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