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President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to be reinstated

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The devil is definitely going to be in the details, i.e., who will be appointed, but the White House confirmed in September 2017 that it is going to re-instate the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). 


PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the Executive Office of the President. PCAST makes policy recommendations in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people.

Beginning in 1933 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Science Advisory Board, each President has established an advisory committee of scientists, engineers, and health professionals. Although the name of the advisory boards have varied over the years, the purpose of each remains the same—to provide scientific and technical advice to the President of the United States.

The current President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) was originally established through Executive Order 13226, issued by George W. Bush in 2001 and re-established by President Barack Obama. 

The White House said that PCAST would be re-established in September but that has not yet happened. When it does, the process of staffing it will be handled by  the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. But that office, known as OSTP, still has no director, and the president has offered no timeline for when he’ll nominate someone for the job.

The manner in which this White House has treated scientists (such as the travel ban, which denied entry to scientists and students) and scientific issues (such as removal of scientific information from government websites and withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement) might make it challenging to find qualified scientists. Some suspect, the OSTP and PCAST would be populated by scientists  the U.S. with strong idealogical biases that support the White House agenda, such as climate-change deniers or who are simply unqualified. After all, the nominee for the USDA chief scientist - Sam Clovis - has no scientific credentials whatsoever even though such credentials are required by law. David Gelertner, said to be a contender to head OSTP, is a climate change denier. And though himself Jewish, he appears to be anti-Semitic, having attributed the decline in American culture to “an increasing Jewish presence at top colleges.”

Further, much of the PCAST budget comes from the Department of Energy, and the White House budget request for 2018 says, "The PCAST advisory committee has dissolved and [the DOE Office of Science] is not aware of any plans to reform this committee in FY 2018.” Without funding from another source, PCAST would be unable to function. 

Bottom line: this may not be a good news story; it may just be window-dressing and an opportunity for the White House to solicit support from the very few scientists who share the views of this Administration. 

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