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Vienna | 21.11.2008 | 16:01 
God, what's happening in the world! A reality check on the web.

Chris, DaddyD, Zita

Obama & Science
  Dr Burton Richter won the Nobel Prize Winner for Physics back in 1976. As a professor at Stanford University, Dr Richter built a particle accelerator called SPEAR. With it he discovered a new subatomic particle he called a psi particle (now called a J/ particle). The same discovery was made independently by Samuel Ting, and the two scientists were jointly awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work. Richter serves on the board of directors of Scientists and Engineers for America, an organization focused on promoting sound science in American government.
  Dr Richter, when the scientific world makes pitches for projects do you think the response of an Obama Administration will be "we're all ears" or "we're too busy sorting out the biggest financial crisis in our history - come back later"?

That's a difficult one to answer. Obama has said that he strongly supports science. If you look in - what I call - "his science & energy manifesto", there will be strong support for science. The big ticket items are always a question? even in good times. The high energy physics community has been trying to get funding for a superconducting linear collider and nobody was very enthusiastic before the crisis. I think the big ticket items are going to have to stand on their own two feet but if you can stir up enough enthusiasm, I think they will go ahead.

 Burton Richter
  Comparing Obama with previous Presidents - is he more than (say) President Bush going to reach deep into pockets and bring out money for NASA space projects?

What's going to happen with NASA and the Space Programme - I think that's an open question. Will he continue the US moon programme - a manned return trip to the moon? Here I'm guessing, I would say - probably. Will he continue the US programme for a manned trip to Mars? I think that's a lot less certain. A replacement for the Shuttle Programme, I'm pretty sure is going to go continue on and go ahead.
  Other aspects - stem cell research? Do you think he's going to go full-steam ahead with that, rolling back the years of President Bush's reluctance here?

I think that is quite likely. I'm not a bio-medical person but I think an Obama Administration will probably relax the rules on funding on new lines of stem cells.

We could go around the sciences but let me ask you about your overall sense about Obama and science. Do you and other prominent scientists look positively towards the future with this Administration?

I think we do. The Obama plans during the campaign have been very positive. But all of us are realists - enough to know that this economic crisis & crash of the markets are going to change patterns of spending from what people thought they were before we got into this mess.

The first thing I guess is waiting for his appointments in science. A scientific officer?

Scientists are looking for two things. First of all the name of the Science Adviser and secondly they're also looking to see if that person gets back the rank inside the Whitehouse that he or she had before the times of the Bush Administration. If you look back to the times of when the rank was created by President Eisenhower and up to the end of the Clinton Administration, the Science Advisor has always been a Special Adviser to the President, located very close to the Whitehouse in the old executive office building which is symbolic and with that "Special Assistant to the President" title. It means in Washington-speak, this guy has the President's ear and you better listen to what he or she says. In the Bush Administration, the Science Advisor no longer had that Special Assistant title and was moved fairly far away from the Whitehouse.

 Photo: Frank Polich / Pool
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