Varmus Apparently Promises Sun and Moon, but Takes Away the Stars

March 29th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Harold Varmus, one of the co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (though you couldn’t tell by looking at their website), recently appeared before the Royal Society (H/T The Great Beyond) as part of the promotional tour for his recent memoir, The Art and Politics of Science.  As part of a panel discussion both Varmus and John Beddington, U.K. science adviser, downplayed the likelihood of significant boosts for science spending in either the U.S. or U.K. budgets.  Varmus recommended that researchers think creatively about the opportunities possible with stimulus funding, as he does not expect baseline budget amounts to increase, or at least increase significantly, in the near term.

I have yet to find any transcript of Varmus’ remarks, or of the discussion in general.  There’s also no mention of the address in other press reports.  An interview Varmus gave with the Times of London focused primarily on global issues.  According to The Great Beyond, he did give an address to the society, in which two interesting, if wildly optimistic, remarks were made.  In response to a question about teaching evolution, Varmus noted that President Obama was considering addressing science in a future address.  He also said that the Office of Technology Assessment would likely be brought back.  I’m skeptical for a couple of reasons.  President Obama addressed scientific integrity concerns with his remarks earlier this month.  Having the executive branch create an office for the legislative branch is not the easiest of tasks, and Congress has trouble passing much of anything.  So either Varmus has high expectations, or any new OTA will likely look very different from its predecessor.  Personally, I’d wait for the administration to finish its appointments to OSTP and ramp up that office and the new PCAST before throwing a new ball into the mix.

(UPDATE: A comment below from a reader who was at the event suggests the account overplayed the OTA comments)

4 Responses to “Varmus Apparently Promises Sun and Moon, but Takes Away the Stars”

  1. mickysmuses Says:

    Line 7 “spedning”

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  3. stevenhill Says:

    I was at the lecture, and I think The Great Beyond was a little strong on the comment on the Office for Technology Assessment. Varmus carefully prefaced his remark by saying that he wasn’t part of the administration, so was expressing a personal view. As I recollect he then went on to say that bringing back the OTA would be a good idea, but didn’t comment on whether it was likely or not.

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  5. David Bruggeman Says:

    Thanks to both of you. I’ve fixed the error in line 7. And I appreciate hearing from someone with firsthand knowledge of the event. Secondary sources have their limits.

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  7. David Bruggeman Says:

    There appears to be a webcast available of this appearance. Unfortunately, I’m having a devil of a time getting it to run.