US president-elect Joe Biden has said his team of scientific advisers will lead with “science and truth – we believe in both”, in an apparent dig at the outgoing Trump administration.
Mr Biden is elevating the position of science adviser to cabinet level, a White House first.
He said that Eric Lander, a pioneer in mapping the human genome who is in line to be director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, is “one of the most brilliant guys I know”.
Prof Lander said Mr Biden has tasked his advisers and “the whole scientific community and the American public” to “rise to this moment”.
Vice president-elect Kamala Harris used the rollout of the science team to recall her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a cancer researcher whom she credited with teaching her to think critically.
“The science behind climate change is not a hoax,” Ms Harris said. “The science behind the virus is not partisan. The same laws apply, the same evidence holds true regardless of whether or not you accept them.”
Both Mr Biden and Ms Harris veered from their prepared texts to hold up the scientists as examples to children across the country.
“Superheroes aren’t just about our imagination,” Ms Harris said. “They are walking among us. They are teachers and doctors and scientists, they are vaccine researchers … and you can grow up to be like them, too.”
Prof Lander is the founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and was the lead author of the first paper announcing the details of the human genome.
Science will be at the forefront of my administration — and this group will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth. Tune in as I introduce members of my science team. https://t.co/ZEhKL5k59t
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 16, 2021
He would be the first life scientist to have that White House job. His predecessor is a meteorologist.
The president-elect is retaining the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr Francis Collins, who worked with Mr Lander on the human genome project.
Mr Biden also named two prominent female scientists to co-chair the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
Frances Arnold, a California Institute of Technology chemical engineer who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry, and MIT vice president for research and geophysics professor Maria Zuber will lead the outside science advisory council.
Prof Lander held that position during Obama administration.
Dr Collins called Prof Lander “brilliant, visionary, exceptionally creative and highly effective in aspiring others”.
“I predict he will have a profound transformational effect on American science,” Dr Collins said.
The job as director of science and technology policy requires US senate confirmation.
The Biden-Harris COVID-19 response plan will include:
✓Setting up community vaccination sites nationwide
✓Scaling up testing and tracing
✓Providing paid sick leave to contain spread of the virus
✓Addressing health disparities
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 16, 2021
Science organisations were also quick to praise Mr Lander and the promotion of the science post to cabinet level.
Elevating the position “clearly signals the administration’s intent to involve scientific expertise in every policy discussion”, said Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.
Mr Biden picked Princeton’s Alondra Nelson, a social scientist who studies science, technology and social inequality, as deputy science policy chief.
Prof Lander, also a mathematician, is a professor of biology at both Harvard and MIT and his work has been cited nearly half a million times in scientific literature, one of the most among scientists.
He has won numerous science prizes, including a MacArthur “genius” fellowship and a Breakthrough Prize, and is one of Pope Francis’ scientific advisers.
Prof Lander has said in talks that an opportunity to explain science is his “Achilles’ heel”, saying: “I love teaching and more than that, I firmly believe that no matter what I do in my own scientific career, the most important impact that I could ever have on the world is going to be through my students.”