Jan. 13, 2009

A group of 49 Nobel Laureates and other scientific leaders, including six Columbia professors, have sent a letter (PDF) to President-elect Barack Obama, urging an increase in funding for scientific research and innovation as part of his economic stimulus package. This letter has been endorsed by 19 university presidents, including Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger.

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The signatories state that the stimulus package presents an opportunity to begin the real project of restoring science in the nation, because investment in science both provides an immediate boost to the economy and creates new opportunities for Americans. The effort was led in part by Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, University Professor of Physiology and Psychiatry at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The letter underscores the public appeal Obama made last Thursday at George Mason University for his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which calls for increased spending "in the science, research and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries," including the creation of a "clean-energy economy."

The letter-writers also point out that increased scientific funding will create jobs across the economy, revitalize America's scientific infrastructure and provide the groundwork for national leadership in science.

"While some might argue that the current economic crisis should push such plans into the future," the letter reads, "we believe, to the contrary, that the stimulus package provides a vital opportunity to begin rebuilding American science" for both short-term needs, such as infrastructure spending, as well as long-term initiatives in basic science research.

Similar efforts are taking place by many other academic and scientific leaders. On Dec. 15, 2008, national leaders in politics, business, research and education, including Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, also called for renewing America's commitment to science and technology. The Association of American Universities and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are closely monitoring the President-elect's call for increased investment in science and have been sharing updates on the issue with their members.

Bollinger, together with a number of research university presidents, strongly endorses the letter by scientific leaders and Nobel Laureates to President-elect Obama and members of Congress. "It is our belief that such an investment is not only critical to the long-term health of our economy," said Bollinger, "it will ensure that America remains at the forefront of scientific research."

University presidents who have joined in endorsing the letter include:

Ruth Simmons, Brown University; Jean-Lou A. Chameau, California Institute of Technology; W. Taylor Reveley III, College of William and Mary; David Skorton, Cornell University; James Wright, Dartmouth College; Gary B. Schuster, Georgia Institute of Technology; Graham B. Spanier, Pennsylvania State University; Shirley Tilghman, Princeton University; Gene Block, University of California Los Angeles; Larry Vanderhoef, University of California-Davis; Robert J. Birgeneau, University of California-Berkeley; Marye Anne Fox, University of California-San Diego; Mark G. Yudof, University of California; Robert Zimmer, University of Chicago; Richard Herman, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign; Mary Sue Coleman, University of Michiga-Ann Arbor; John T. Casteen, University of Virginia; Mark A. Emmert, University of Washington: Carolyn "Biddy" Martin, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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