Biden announces a new science advisory body

Mr Joe Biden announced the new President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in a video the White House released on Sept 22. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - United States President Joe Biden is convening a panel of 30 scientific advisers - in fields as diverse as agriculture, biochemistry, computer engineering, ecology, nanotechnology and neuroscience - to advise the White House on addressing future pandemics, climate change and a range of other global challenges.

Mr Biden announced the new President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology - to be known by the acronym PCAST - in a video the White House released on Wednesday (Sept 22) morning.

The White House describes the group as a "direct descendant" of the scientific advisory committee established by then President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957 after the Soviet Union launched the first Sputnik satellite, beating the US in the race to space.

The new council includes two Nobel laureates and five MacArthur "genius" grant recipients as well as two former Cabinet secretaries and a former astronaut who was the first woman to dive into the deepest part of the Earth's oceans.

Half its members, including two of its three co-chairs, are women. (The other co-chair is Mr Eric Lander, who heads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy).

"This PCAST will see new possibilities to create good jobs, and power American workers, and grow the economy for everyone, to change the course of human health and disease, to tackle the climate crisis with American innovation and to lead the world in technologies," the President says in the video.

The panel has been nine months in the making.

Mr Biden asked Dr Frances Arnold, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemical engineer, and Dr Maria Zuber, a geophysicist and planetary scientist who was the first woman to lead a National Aeronautics and Space Administration planetary mission, to be co-chairs before he was inaugurated.

Dr Arnold and Dr Zuber spent months combing through resumes to submit to the president and said in a joint interview that scientists were eager to serve, particularly in the wake of the administration of former president Donald Trump, who many scientists feel devalued their profession. No one they asked said no, and all are serving as volunteers.

"The almost utter dismissal of science as the basis for decision-making by the previous administration was tremendously dispiriting and played a large role in the alacrity with which I made that decision to take on this new job," said Dr Arnold, a professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

The group has not yet held its first meeting or set an agenda. But Dr Lander, who served on former president Barack Obama's PCAST, said he would be surprised if the group "did not have a lot of interest in using the learning from this pandemic to think really fundamentally" about the public health system and how it could be improved.

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