Friday, June 05, 2009
Unlike previous administrations, the Obama White House has been swift and wise in filling the major science posts. Only the $30 billion National Institutes of Health, flush with stimulus
money, remains without a permanent leader. The President lifted Bush administration restrictions on stem cell research early in March, http://bobpark.org/WN09/wn030609.html . It would have
been natural to name Francis Collins as director at that time. Until his resignation a year ago, Collins led the National Human Genome Research Project in its successful race against
maverick Craig Venter. Collins is expected to be named NIH Director any day, but why has it taken so long? Many scientists are uncomfortable with Collins outspoken position on the God
issue. On questions of scientific fact, Collins invariably sides with science. However, he is founder and president of the BioLogos Foundation, which emphasizes the compatibility of
Christian Faith with the findings of science. In "The Language of God," Collins describes his parents as only "nominally Christian" and says he regarded himself as an atheist through
graduate school. He attributes his conversion to the same reasons cited by each of the physicists who have won the Templeton prize: the moral law and the anthropic principle,
http://bobpark.org/WN09/wn030609.html . Toward the end of his book he describes a moving religious experience with a young farmer in Nigeria who was dying of tuberculosis; he interpreted
it as a vision of God's purpose. As Park noted in "Superstition," that an M.D. with a PhD in chemistry could not distinguish a hormone rush from an encounter with God is troubling.
It is undeniable that there has been enormous progress in recent years, not just in academia, but in industry and government as well. I note that for 100 years the chief operating
officers of the American Physical Society were all male physicists and held the title of Secretary. When a female physicist was finally named, the title had to be changed to Executive
Officer. She is being succeeded by Kate Kirby of the Harvard Astronomy Department. Her selection was praised by APS President, Cherry Murray, deputy director of Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory. An editorial in today's Science points out that too many scientifically trained women are rejecting academia in favor of other career paths. And in my freshman physics classes
I still see far fewer women than men.
Biologist Thomas Huxley was known as Darwin's bulldog for his spirited defense of Darwin's theory. Darwins chief defender today is Genie Scott, director of the National Center for Science
Education, who just won the inaugural Stephen Jay Gould Prize of the Society for the Study of Evolution. She was ranked by Scientific American as one of the top ten science leaders just a
few weeks ago.
Many readers access WN directly from the web, http://bobpark.org , rather than by e-mail subscription, or use to search back issues. That's fine with us. Unfortunately the last two issues
did not get onto the site, for which we apologize. The problem has now been fixed.