Thursday, January 08, 2009

Out with the old, and in with the new

This is our first full week back at Economist towers. Last week we ran a weirdly stunted issue, very short on pages and very short on time to produce it. The entire issue was put together on a single day at the end of December, in order to avoid the bank holiday shut downs at various printing presses.

So everyone is back this week and it is a struggle to get into the editor's office for the Monday morning meeting. The talk is of recession, stimulus, manufacturing, Obama, and of course Gaza, Gaza, Gaza.

Over in the science section, we don't often have much to contribute on such worldly and weighty matters, but this week I wrote a lead note looking at Obama's science appointments and what they signal for the new administration. The bottom line is that Obama will be taking scientific information seriously, and it will become an important part of policy making. There will always be a tension between politics and science, but acknowledging the existence of data is a good start.

Looking ahead, if science is now part of policy making this will inevitably raise the profile of scientific information more generally, as well as scientists and science news.

If politicians are asking about what the science says when they form policy, it also means that when scientists discover, invent or achieve things people will also ask well if this is the science, what should the policy be?

While journalists are keenly aware of self-censorship, having a US president that refused to accept scientific data within the context of many an argument could not help but shift the news agenda. Science correspondents and journalists had less to contribute because the arguments were drawn on political lines rather than scientific ones. So for years the arguments about climate change have been booted into the political realm. Reports, facts, scientists have been suppressed. And it is very difficult to report on what isn't there.

Hopefully times are changing. That doesn't necessarily mean that scientists are going to get everything their way. If they assume that, they are in for a big disappointment. Scientific fact is only part of policy making. And there are probably some profound shakeups coming in research funding, as priorities change and economic hard times bite.

But arguing over scientific facts will be so much more satisfying. I am looking forward to 2009.

Blessed are the geeks, for they shall inherit the Earth

Barack Obama is making good his promise to welcome scientists into his administration
Jan 8th 2009

My second story takes a brief look at the new marine reserves announced by Bush. For a fuller take on this story, check out the weekend edition of The Economist website. Next week's green.view will take a look at green New Year's resolutions.

Green Bush

The departing president tries to burnish his environmental halo
Jan 8th 2009