Last Friday U.S. President-elect Joe Biden named The Broad Institute founding director and president Eric Lander as his science advisor and as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Lander, 63, is a mathematician by training and distinguished life sciences researcher who had a leadership role in the Human Genome Project. Biden said he will elevate Lander’s advisor role to a Cabinet Level position. (The Broad Institute is jointly run by Harvard and MIT).
This is Lander’s second time as a presidential science advisor having also served as co-chair of President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) for former President Barack Obama. Notably, Biden announced Francis Collins will remain as the NIH director. Given the ongoing pandemic, having such biomedical science depth to help inform and conduct policy should be useful.
President-elect Biden has moved to quickly to fill other key science positions with a diverse, distinguished group. Alondra Nelson will serve as OSTP Deputy Director for Science and Society. Nelson is president of the Social Science Research Council, an independent, nonprofit organization, and a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Biden also named Frances Arnold, CalTech, and Maria Zuber, MIT, as external co-chairs of PCAST. “Dr. Arnold is an expert in protein engineering and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Dr. Zuber is an expert in geophysics and planetary science, an astronaut who was the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission, and a former chair of the National Science Board,” noted Peter Harsha, government affairs director for the Computing Research Association, in a guest blog for the Computing Community Consortium.
In the public announcement, Biden said, “Science will always be at the forefront of my administration — and these world-renowned scientists will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth. Their trusted guidance will be essential as we come together to end this pandemic, bring our economy back, and pursue new breakthroughs to improve the quality of life of all Americans. Their insights will help America chart a brighter future, and I am grateful they answered the call to serve.”
“He’s incredibly good at explaining complex scientific issues,” Holdren (John Holdren, science advisor to former president Obama) says about Lander’s role in presenting PCAST reports to the president. Biden participated in several of those briefings, Holdren noted, calling the former vice president “a real science wonk.”
Lander has long had a high scientific profile. He co-led the public Human Genome Project to the completion of a first draft in 2001. In 2003 he founded and now leads the Broad Institute, a genome-sequencing powerhouse. Lander is known for his enthusiasm for big science projects and his healthy ego. A few years ago he was criticized for downplaying the role of some scientists in developing CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that has transformed biology in recent years.”
Link to President-elect Joe Biden’s announcement: https://buildbackbetter.gov/press-releases/president-elect-biden-announces-key-members-of-his-white-house-science-team/
Link to Science article: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/01/biden-appoints-geneticist-eric-lander-science-advisor
Link to Nature article; https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00118-8