Obama Speaks at
NAS Annual Meeting
President Barack Obama spoke to academy members at the 2013 National Academy of Sciences annual meeting to celebrate the institution's 150th anniversary, becoming only the second president to address the members of the National Academy of Sciences twice. "It's good to be back," he told the packed auditorium, alluding to his visit in 2009.
In opening, the president recounted the story of the Academy's founding during the Civil War and its inaugural task of correcting the compasses on the Union's ironclad ships. But the institution was founded with a mandate far broader than the science of war, he noted. "Even as the nation was at war with itself, President Lincoln had the wisdom to look forward, and he recognized that finding a way to harness the highest caliber scientific advice for the government would serve a whole range of long-term goals for the nation." He pointed to issues on which his own administration had turned to the Academy for advice, including research priorities, nanotechnology, and the causes of gun violence.
President Obama also stressed the need to invest in research and innovation despite current budget challenges. "We can't let other countries win the race for ideas and technology of the future," not just out of nationalistic pride but also "because nobody does it better than we do when it's adequately funded…and what we do here ends up having benefits worldwide." Protecting the integrity of the scientific process is important as well, he said. "In all sciences, we've got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they're not subject to politics, that they're not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we go where the evidence leads us."
The nation needs to support the next generation of scientists, Obama said, noting the ambitious challenges taken on by young people who had entered the White House Science Fair. One student had developed a fast, inexpensive test for cancer, for example, while another had developed a way to convert algae into sustainable biofuels. He remarked how these students "shared this fundamental optimism that if you figured this stuff out, people's lives would be better; that there were no inherent barriers to us solving the big problems that we face as long as we were diligent and focused and observant and curious."
In closing, the president thanked the Academy on behalf of the American people and urged the institution to continue to play a central role in informing policy. "I'm absolutely convinced that if this Academy and the successors who become members of this Academy are there at the center and heart of our public debate, that we'll be able to continue to use the innovation that powers our economy and improves our health, protects our environment and security, that makes us the envy of the world."
In introductory remarks, NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone said, "Like President Lincoln 150 years ago, President Obama clearly understands the importance of S&T to the future prosperity and security of our nation. We're pleased that President Obama and the administration continue to turn to the National Academy of Sciences for help, analysis, and advice on many issues facing the country and the world today."
-- Sara Frueh & Molly Galvin
A video of the address can be viewed online.