Again and again during his first days in the White House, President Obama has sprinkled scripted and ad-libbed remarks with the word "science," to be used as a guiding tool and principle in decisions that ultimately will cover major programs on his agenda. Health and medicine, education, air and water quality, applications of "green" technology, analyzing the military's weapons needs, and creating thousands of new jobs from emerging technologies all rely heavily on science.
Once more, Obama is reversing an ill-conceived detour from reality of the Bush administration, which scoffed at science, belittled science's value in decisions, censured and muzzled scientists inside the administration and treated science as an enemy of White House cronies in industry who preferred pollution over cleaner technologies.
In the place of science and scientists, President Bush elevated "faith" practitioners to a White House office and treated science as a mumbo jumbo tool of eccentric mystics.
Thereafter religion influenced decisions that rejected scientific evidence (such as notorious Bush-endorsed legislation requiring brain-dead Terri Schiavo to be kept alive) and encouraged creationists to attack and discredit the teaching of evolution, whose tenets nevertheless have been tested and proven repeatedly. Global warming was regarded as God's work, not that of manmade greenhouse gases.
Bush rebuked credible American scientists by insisting he needed what he called "sound science" before accepting global warming as a fact and mounting an environmental counterattack. Eight years of valuable time were wasted.
Bush's ideological resistance to science, or maybe his ignorance about the importance of science, has damaged and reduced America's standing in technological disciplines beyond calculation over the past eight years.
Obama, on the other hand, is moving swiftly to restore scientists on the frontlines in his administration, and enacting measures demanding a leading role for science.
This week, he ordered an accelerated conversion of Detroit automobiles to higher fuel standards by 2011. The Bush administration lackadaisically accepted 2020 for improved mileage, relying on the auto industry to dictate a time frame. Obama also freed more than a dozen states, including California, to set tougher emission standards for autos, a right that President Bush had opposed.
Stem cell research to find medical cures and treatments will be restored. Major elements of Obama's economic redevelopment program involve new "green" jobs heavily dependent on new technologies using wind and sun.
If Obama's impressive academic achievements and his gift with language stir young people to higher self-improvement, his respect for science unquestionably will also ignite a new national interest in the lofty discipline.
And not a day too soon.