President Obama looks with optimism to a future that’s better for everybody

Why science is key

President Obama, August 2016. Photo by Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos

I haven’t watched television in more than two years. The brief snippets I get at the gym are a potent reminder that a constant dose of television news could leave one feeling down about the state of the country and the world. (Of course, that statement is hardly unique to me.) I stick to print, video – mostly online – and radio.

Since our President’s Cancer Panel is completing a report on connected health, I was delighted that President Obama is guest editor for the November issue of Wired magazine, the theme of which is frontiers – “what’s over the next horizon…what lies on the other side of the barriers we haven’t broken through yet.”

Reading his introduction to the issue made me proud of the president. The tone set by the person in the White House has so much to do with how we feel about the country, and his tone, particularly as a departing leader, is positive, visionary, upbeat, yet serene. The president wrote that now is the greatest time to be alive and gave many examples of progress made in the last decade.

That’s one reason why I’m so optimistic about the future: the constant churn of scientific progress. Think about the changes we’ve seen just during my presidency. When I came into office, I broke new ground by pecking away at a BlackBerry. Today I read my briefings on an iPad and explore national parks through a virtual-reality headset. Who knows what kind of changes are in store for our next president and the ones who follow?

He gave voice to the importance of science for the country, world and planet. In using science as a verb (“We science the heck out of challenges”), he emphasized its relevance and value – and its coolness. In a counter to the dreariness that has colored so much of the current presidential campaign, he expressed optimism about the future. Whoever the next president is, we need him or her (and how nice to be able to say her) to believe in the future of this country, to envision an arc toward improving health, well-being and the planet – “a world that’s even better for us all” – and to believe deeply that the future belongs to each of us, whoever we are. “To accelerate change,” he said, “we need science.”

Whoever the next president is, I want that person to believe in and talk about, as has President Obama, progress that benefits each and every person, about girls whose prospects are equal to boys for careers in science and technology, about the importance of addressing complex topics such as income disparities, health inequities, climate change, cancer and Alzheimer’s. I want our next president to dream about a future that is better, “not just for those of us who are fortunate, but for everybody.”

Wherever you are, I hope you’re going to vote early – or already have! Happy Halloween.

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