Dubya and Science Policy

This should be an eventful year for science, in part because a new U.S. president will soon have to make many decisions about research and development. For starters, the incoming George W. Bush Administration must pick a White House science adviser and determine biomedical research policy.

At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), observers are wondering what the selection of Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson to head the Department of Health and Human Services will mean for some research on stem cells. Last August, the Bush campaign echoed antiabortion groups in criticizing NIH's plan to fund work using stem cells derived from human embryos destined to be discarded by fertility clinics. Although Thompson is also opposed to abortion, his appointment has cheered some scientists, who cite his praise of groundbreaking stem cell work by scientists in his home state. "I am quite hopeful that [he will] be supportive," says Elizabeth Marincola, executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology.

Antiabortion politics could also complicate the selection of a new NIH director, prompting some observers to recall a similarly prolonged hunt during the last Bush presidency. Whoever succeeds Harold Varmus, who left 13 months ago, will have to satisfy both conservatives and moderates. Also look for new heads at two institutes--eye and neurological disorders--and several key bureaus, including the Office of AIDS Research.

At the National Park Service, Bush has pledged to undo a Clinton-era shift that sent the agency's 100 research scientists to the U.S. Geological Survey. Bush wants to return them to shore up protection for park resources, but the idea has received mixed reviews from outsiders.