Dear Mr President,
You are fortunate in leading a nation pre-eminent in science. By any measure, scientists in the US are having a profound impact on our understanding of virtually every field of research.
But this sustained excellence is matched by the steady of growth of a culture of unreason, deeply opposed to the methods and conclusions of science. You are in a uniquely powerful position to confront this dangerous trend, but I'm afraid you are also in a deeply compromised position. For tackling the culture of unreason means confronting the core of your political support, the religious right.
Why is this important? The scientific issues we need to confront as a society are increasingly posing hard questions of moral judgement and of practical concern. This is particularly true in the revolution in biosciences which intimately affects who and what we are. Your administration has already compromised US scientific advance—and potentially the health of many of your citizens—by a politically motivated policy fudge over embryonic stem cells.
The questions in coming years will get harder, not easier. It will be the task of elected politicians to make societal choices on the basis of scientific evidence, not prejudice.
Your friend Tony Blair recently gave a speech where he declared, "We're at a crossroads. We could choose a path of timidity in the face of the unknown. Or we could choose to be a nation at ease with radical knowledge, not fearful of the future, a culture that values a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to new opportunities." Prime Minister Blair believes the second path is the clear choice. It's time you demonstrated the same conviction.
Independent Writer and Strategist
Former Advisor, Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, London