Washington’s economy is one of the most technology-intensive in the nation. Software. Precision agriculture. Aerospace. Biomedicine. E-tailing. New media. Alternative energy. Public and private research institutions. Even narrowly defined, the technology sector is responsible, directly or indirectly, for nearly 50 percent of the jobs in Washington. East to west, north to south, we are driven by innovation. It benefits all of our citizens. It defines our future.
That’s why this year’s Presidential election, and tonight’s debate, are so important to Washington. There are stark differences between how John McCain and Barack Obama would steer our nation’s science and technology enterprise and how those differences will affect our economy.
More than 60 American Nobel Laureates released a letter on Sept. 25 urging support for Senator Barack Obama. Here is part of what they said:
“This year’s presidential election is among the most significant in our nation’s history. The country urgently needs a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness. We are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is such a leader, and we urge you to join us in supporting him.”
These Nobel Laureates support Senator Obama with good reason. We need strong leadership to implement the kinds of changes that will drive the science and technology industries of our nation and our state. To that end, Senator Obama has promised to appoint a highly qualified science advisor who will report directly to him. That position was abolished under George W. Bush. Senator Obama has also pledged to appoint the nation’s first chief technology officer. Senator McCain, on the other hand, has made no such commitment to ensuring that he will seek the best science advice available.
When Senator Obama was looking for science advice to guide his campaign, he called upon the experts. It was recently revealed that three of his top science advisors have Nobel prizes: Peter Agre in chemistry, Robert Horvitz in medicine, and Harold Varmus, the former head of the National Institutes of Health, in medicine. The McCain campaign, despite being asked many times by the press, has declined to identify its science advisors.
Our nation’s economic future depends upon continuing to be the best place to develop innovative products and services and the best place to build new businesses and jobs around innovation. Senator Obama has laid out detailed plans to ensure continued leadership in research and for giving American producers the incentives they need to get ideas into the market.
Consider, for example, energy. Senator McCain claims to have a plan for getting the nation off of fossil fuels, but a close look reveals that he is banking on more oil drilling, developing new nuclear plants, offering a prize for developing more advanced batteries – and he chose a running mate who doubts the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming. Senator Obama, on the other hand, has offered a detailed set of programs including increases in research, a balanced set of energy options, and strong incentives for implementation of new energy ideas.
Never has it been so critical that we have a President who understands science, technology, and innovation – critical to America, critical to the State of Washington, and critical to you and your children. I urge you to become informed on these issues, and to give them appropriate weight in your decision on November 4.
Ed Lazowska holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, where he also serves as the founding director of the University of Washington eScience Institute. His research and teaching concern the design, implementation, and analysis of high performance computing and communication systems, and the techniques and technologies of data-intensive discovery.
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