Renowned scientist John Holdren visits School of Public Policy

Photo by Cody Branchaw
Photo by Cody Branchaw

by Cody Branchaw

John Holdren, the former assistant to President Barack Obama for science and technology, visited the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy Monday. He spoke to students about the history of science and technology within the government and what the future holds for researchers and scientists over the next few years.

Holdren is renowned as one of the most respected scientists in the United States and has received a number of awards and fellowships. Holdren was a science advisor to former President Bill Clinton before being serving as Obama’s senior advisor on science and technology.

“Science is one of the things that makes us human, it lifts the human spirit through discovery – through an increased understanding – through invention,” Holdren said. “So let’s talk about the place of government within science and technology.”

A crowd of students and faculty listened as Holdren detailed the history of science and technology in the government. Holdren explained that as the director of the Office of Science and Technology, his team provided the White House with oversight for the National Science Foundation and NASA and managed the National Science and Technology Council.

Holdren went on to describe how the role of science and technology has grown within the government, especially under Obama, who increased the staff of the science and technology office from 45 to a peak of 135 during his two terms.

After detailing the past eight years of progress under Obama, Holdren turned his attention the some of the problems he encountered and the future of science under President Trump.

“The bigger problems were with members of Congress in many cases, a lot of whom seem to be allowing ideology to get in the way of their willingness to embrace scientific understanding,” Holdren said.

With President Trump’s proposed budget plan, which includes a 10 percent increase in defense spending, science and research-based agencies are preparing to lose large amounts of federal funding. To combat this, Holdren urged the audience to tithe 10 percent of their time to public policy and educating those in charge.

“Everybody needs to get better at telling stories about how science and technology and facts matter, about how science works and how we know what we know,” Holdren said.

Public policy professor Rosina Bierbaum’s class coordinated this event, and were pleased with the insight from his presentation after the lecture.

“He is an amazing speaker,” class teaching assistant Jahan Francois said. “He’s had great experiences that we can all learn from and it was a great opportunity to hear him speak. Being able to hear and experience people is always a great opportunity for the students.”

“I thought it was really great,” said Daniel Parker, a second-year public policy master’s student. “It was really valuable to have someone with his experience, particularly with the Obama administration… It changes how we have to move forward… now it’s more incumbent on the rest of us to hold them accountable and educate [policy makers] on issues that they need to be educated on.”

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