Health gets one-quarter of Obama science board seats

There is a lot driving this group, which is technically known as the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) toward the support of much larger investments in the life sciences.

While the headlines about President Obama's new science board will go to Google and Microsoft "winning seats," and some may note its racial make-up, there are two main headlines here:

  1. The President's ongoing commitment to put 3% of GDP into research and development. Based on last year's GDP estimate of $14.29 trillion, that's over $420 billion, and growing, per year.
  2. One-fourth of the seats on this board went to people in biology or the health professions.

Here is my count:

  • Christine Cassel, who heads the American Board of Internal Medicine.
  • Eric Lander (above), co-chair of the panel and one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project.
  • Barbara Schaal, Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis who works on the molecular genetics of plants.
  • David E. Shaw, best known as a venture capitalist but now a leading researcher in computational biochemistry.
  • Harold Varmus, a co-chair of the panel and chairman of Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

There are other members with more tangential links to the biological sciences.

Rosina Bierbaum and Mario Molina are both experts on climate change. Co-chair John Holdren was a professor of environmental policy at Harvard before moving to the Kennedy School. Nano-tech expert Chad Mirkin of Northwestern is also a professor of medicine there.

The point is there is a lot driving this group, which is technically known as the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) toward the support of much larger investments in the life sciences.

How much the President and Administration listen to the panel, and how much they may be able to afford to listen, remains unclear. But life sciences has a big seat at the Obama table, and the President seems intent on making that pay off.