President Obama on Tuesday in his inaugural address pledged that the U.S. "will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost," the New York Times reports. As one of his first steps, Obama is expected to rescind former President George W. Bush's restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research next week, in contrast to the Bush administration which, according to the Times, "sought to tame, and in some cases suppress the findings of many of the government's scientific agencies" on issues such as stem cells, sex education and contraceptives.

According to Raynard Kington, acting director of NIH, during the Bush administration "there was a fair degree of discussion and one might even say tension between the views of the agency" and those of the administration regarding stem cell research. Kington said NIH is "prepared to respond quickly" to implement stem cell research policy changes, adding that the process could take months. According to Obama transition officials, the new administration also plans to loosen existing regulations regarding oversight on federal scientific agencies. Although reversing the current policies could take time, "[i]f you look at the science world, you see a lot of happy faces," Frank Press, former president of the National Academy of Sciences and former science adviser to former President Carter, said. Press added that scientists are hopeful because of Obama's "recognition of what science can do to bring this country back in an innovative way."

According to some analysts, the biggest challenges for the new administration might involve funding priorities, particularly during the current economic downturn. However, Obama's proposed stimulus package already contains funding provisions for several scientific agencies, Ken Koizumi, senior budget analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said. According to Koizumi, this proposal is "an early indication that the administration will go for more science funding in priority areas, even at a time of big deficits" (Harris/Broad, New York Times, 1/21).

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