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Answering the call for leadership

This week, Science published two editorials that mention the new science appointments made by U.S. President Biden. The team consists of presidential science adviser and nominee for director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Eric Lander, OSTP deputy director for science and society Alondra Nelson, and co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Maria Zuber and Frances Arnold. All four are outstanding scholars and friends of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science). They will have many demands on their time and attention from the world of science and science policy, beginning with these two editorials in Science.

Like many scientists, I watched Biden’s announcement with excitement and relief. Excitement because the science advisory group was being elevated to the cabinet and relief because all signs indicate that they will be able to carry out their work without the kinds of political interference that we saw in the last administration, where experts were muzzled and kept out of the public eye. Each nominee had very important things to say about science and its role in the nation and the world. Perhaps Arnold said it best, stating that what drew her to the role was “a love of science…but also a deeper love—of our planet, and of our people…”

Sudip Parikh’s editorial calls attention to the need for the scientific enterprise to finally come to grips with racial equity. Although he issues his challenge mostly to AAAS, Science, and the scientists of the world, Parikh invokes the words of Lander and Nelson to urge us all to look in the mirror and confront our shortcomings. Nelson served on the AAAS Board and the search committee that hired me, and her wise counsel to both Sudip (the chief executive officer of AAAS) and me has been invaluable. Parikh calls for Congress and the scientific community to partner with AAAS and others to address these goals. For our part, the Science family of journals is working to make more of our data on the demographics of publishing available for analysis by researchers in the future.

In the other editorial, Michael Feuer, Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at The George Washington University, calls on Lander and Nelson to work with the new Secretary of Education and the scientific societies to ensure that reforms are made to science and civics education over the next 4 years. Feuer argues for changes that lead to a greater understanding of evidence and “hands-on learning about objec­tive inquiry as a cornerstone of American democracy and the preparation of a well-informed citizenry.” Indeed, the ease with which so many voters have been persuaded to put aside objective observations in favor of their pet beliefs is the crisis that feeds all of the others, from COVID-19 denial to fantasies about election fraud.

These are just the beginnings of the calls to action that will come to Lander, Nelson, Arnold, and Zuber. As we heave a collective sigh of relief that they will be leading us, we must remember that they need everyone’s support, patience, and engagement in deciding where to focus their energy. Deepest thanks go to these outstanding scientists and Americans who have answered the call for leadership.