Joe Biden has named the geneticist Eric Lander as his top scientific adviser and will elevate the position to the cabinet for the first time, a move meant to indicate a decisive break from Donald Trump’s treatment of science.
The US president-elect vowed that “science will always be at the forefront of my administration” as he unveiled a science team headed by Lander as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. If confirmed by the Senate, he will sit in Biden’s cabinet.
A mathematician turned molecular biologist, Lander will be the first biologist in the role and would be the first in the cabinet.
A high-profile figure, he co-led the Human Genome Project and, since 2003, has headed the Broad Institute, which works on genome sequencing. He is a former adviser to former president Barack Obama, whose former top science official John Holdren said the “science polymath” was a “fabulous choice” to advise Biden.
Science advocates who have long pushed for a scientific voice within the cabinet also welcomed Biden’s choice.
“Elevating this role to membership in the president’s cabinet clearly signals the administration’s intent to involve scientific expertise in every policy discussion,” said Sudip Parikh, the chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“Lander has the requisite skills for this critically important role that works across disciplines and federal agencies.”
Trump has caused despair among scientists, repeatedly dismissing basic understanding of the climate crisis, falsely claiming the Covid-19 pandemic would “just disappear” and sidelining or rejecting politically inconvenient evidence in governmental decision-making.
In a letter to Lander, Biden asked him and his team to help combat public health threats, address the impacts of the climate crisis and help the US be a leader in innovation.
Biden also said he wants Lander to go about his role by “working broadly and transparently with the diverse scientific leadership of American society and engaging the broader American public”.
The president-elect has also put forward the sociologist Alondra Nelson to be the deputy director for science and society, a new position. Frances Arnold, the first American woman to win the Nobel prize in chemistry, and Maria Zuber, a planetary scientist, will be co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, has been asked to continue in the role.