Science-friendly White House could mean big bucks for Colorado

The Economist writes in Blessed are the geeks, for they shall inherit the Earth that President-elect Barack Obama’s appointments of prominent scientists to key agencies and advisory councils signals a decisive shift in public policy and political decision-making by the new chief executive in contrast to his predecessor.

With Colorado ranking third in the nation on the Milken Institute’s Technology and Science Index — a measure of state human capital and intellectual property assets that can be leveraged for economic development — Obama’s nerdy spheres of influence could reap big rewards for the Centennial State.

From the Economist:

ONE of the stranger beliefs of some politicians is that if they treat nature like a troublesome opponent and ignore it, it might go away and stop bothering them. In the opinion of many scientists George Bush, America’s retiring president, was just such a politician. It would be one thing, for example, to argue that it is too expensive to stop climate change and that adapting to such change is a better course of action. It is quite another, as White House officials have done in the past, to describe climate change as a liberal cause without merit.

Mr Bush’s administration also stands accused of suppressing the publication of research he did not like. In 2007, for example, Richard Carmona, then surgeon general, testified to Congress that Mr Bush’s officials had delayed and tried to “water down” a report which concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm. It has been criticised, too, for preferring AIDS-prevention techniques based on abstinence (which don’t work, but have a moral appeal to Mr Bush and his supporters) to those that use condoms (which do work). His attitude to research on embryonic stem cells did not endear him to many scientists, either, and although the disagreement in this case was about a matter of principle rather than one of scientific truth, the decision to stop funding such research was seen as yet another example of how low the stock of science had fallen in the government.

The stem-cell question was one that particularly disturbed Dr Carmona when he was surgeon general. In his evidence to Congress, he reported that he was not allowed to speak, or issue reports, on stem cells. Nor on emergency contraception, sex education, mental health, the health of prisoners or global health. The thousands of scientists who, in 2006, signed a petition calling for the restoration of scientific integrity to federal policymaking will also feel vindicated. “See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” may sometimes be a good prescription for day to day life, but it is no basis for policymaking. Mr Bush did not seem to realise that. So far, Mr Obama looks as though he does.

A June 2008 article in Genome Technology (subscription only) noted Denver-Boulder as one of top 20 biotech locations in the world. The Front Range biotech corridor employs 10,000 people throughout the region, including at the newest facility, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Children’s Hospital adjacent to the Colorado Science and Technology Park at Fitzsimons, a planned 578-acre bioscience campus. Regional employment is expected to nearly double by 2010 to 19,000 people.

Those well-paid, highly educated workers support a very efficient economic engine. Colorado ranks fifth among the states by generating $787 million in business activity from the $336 million in locally awarded National Institutes of Health biomedical research grants in 2007, according to a Families USA’s Global Health Initiative report. Only Texas, Illinois, California and Georgia rank higher than Colorado.


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