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Transition and the new Cabinet

There are rumors aplenty, but take them with caution, about potential members of the Obama Administration.

Despite understanding, on a cerebral level, what Obama is trying to do, on a visceral level my instinct is to use the majority to implement progressive policies fast and forcefully, to have enough time for those policies to take hold and demonstrate to the people that they are good – two years of gradual economic recovery, new jobs, affordable health-care, serious environmental programs and such can lead to further increase in Dem numbers in Congress instead of decline, and would ensure Obama’s re-election another two years after.

I understand that, as a Progressive, I will not like all of his cabinet picks or agree with all of his policy proposals.

I guess I can live with Rahm Emanuel.

But there are people I cannot live with.

Robert Kennedy Jr. is one of those. He is the typical paranoid, conspiracy-theorist, hyperbolic quack. A kind of person shunned, ignored and marginalized by the Democratic Party for decades now for two good reasons: such people’s judgment cannot be trusted, and such people give the party a bad name. We are supposed to be Reality-Based Community and RFK Jr. does not belong.

For more information, this is your Obligatory Reading of the Day. RFK Jr as a head of a Federal Agency (either Interior or Environment) would be equivalent to Michael Crichton advising Bush on climate change, or McCain choosing Sarah Palin for VP. Embarrassing.

The other one is Larry Summers. Others are also vocing doubts, for various reasons. But if you search Scienceblogs you will see that Summers would be a very, very bad choice.

Now, how can Obama be notified that most scientists, academics and otherwise educated folks would be very unhappy about these two choices? Does anyone have a personal touch with a member of his Transition Team? Good connections in the Mainstream Media? Or could we, by screaming to the tops of our voices on many blogs catch the attention of the Media sufficiently for Obama himself to be made aware of it? What is the best way to do this?

But there are also positive suggestions. We have already discussed several potential Science Advisors. We know that Obama is very pro-science and he mentions science in every speech. I have pushed for my choice, but there are several other good choices as well.

How about Lawrence Lessig? Obama’s campaign has used the technology in a truly winning way so he should understand how important freedom of information is.

And how do we push these ideas loudly enough to get picked up by the media and the Transition Team?

– more from my SciBlings:

Mike the Mad Biologist
Mike Dunford
Josh Rosenau
Brandon Keim


  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    November 6, 2008

    The message is that we will not tolerate the same kind of incompetence in the new administration that led to being underprepared for Iraq and Katrina under the old one. These picks, if true, would represent that kind of incompetence: Kennedy because he is a demonstrated ideologue who ignores reality if he doesn’t like it, Summers because he has a demonstrated record of being unable to lead (not just because he’s an idiot about women in science). It isn’t merely embarrassing. It’s not the change we were promised.

    How best to spread that message? I’m not sure.

  2. #2 chezjake
    November 6, 2008

    As far as getting the message to the right people, how about getting ScienceBlogs/Seed to set up another temporary blog, like the “A Vote for Science” blog. I’d suggest making it open to any qualified scientist or science journalist/writer, perhaps with an in-house moderator who can help with posting for those who are not experienced bloggers. Suggested name for the blog: “Transition to Reality-Based Government.”

    Once the blog is set up, everyone should be asked to notify their own Congresscritters and any other government contacts they have about the blog. In addition, the Obama campaign is in the process of setting up a website on the transition at http://www.change.gov. Hopefully that will include some way of contacting the transition team directly.

  3. #3 Medical Mitten
    November 6, 2008

    I agree with you about RFK Jr…. probably not the best choice for a reality based cabinet position. But in defense of his paranoia, if anybody is to be a little paranoid about things, a Kennedy should have a bit of an excuse. A better fit for him might be as the “Secretary of Imagination”.

  4. #4 pHred
    November 6, 2008

    You can try sending an “idea” at


    It is accepting submissions.

  5. #5 jake
    November 6, 2008

    In any case, I’m hoping Neal Tyson is invited over more often. I can see Obama and Tyson getting along really well together, especially with Obama’s kids.

  6. #6 Katharine
    November 6, 2008

    While I am not familiar with the other departments, I do have some familiarity with the NIH, because I am a member of the scientific community and because I have a relative who works there.

    I think the new secretary of health and human services should have both an MD and a PhD, or one of the two.

    Elias Zerhouni is my first choice for secretary of health and human services. Here are a list of other individuals who deserve to be secretary of health and human services:

    * National Cancer Institute (NCI)
    John Niederhuber, M.D.
    * National Eye Institute (NEI)
    Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D.
    * National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
    Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D.
    * National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
    Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D. (Acting)
    * National Institute on Aging (NIA)
    Richard Hodes, M.D.
    * National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
    Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. (Acting)
    * National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
    Anthony Fauci, M.D.
    * National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
    Stephen Katz, M.D., Ph.D.
    * National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
    Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S, Ph.D.
    * National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
    Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D.
    * National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
    Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
    * National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
    Samuel Wilson, M.D. (Acting)
    * National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
    Jeremy Berg , Ph.D.
    * National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
    Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
    * National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
    Story Landis, Ph.D.

    NIH Centers

    * Center for Scientific Review (CSR)
    Antonio Scarpa, M.D., Ph.D.
    * John E. Fogarty International Center (FIC)
    Roger I. Glass, M.D., Ph.D.
    * National Center for Research Resources (NCRR)
    Barbara M. Alving , M.D.
    * NIH Clinical Center (CC)
    John I. Gallin, M.D.

  7. #7 Donna B.
    November 6, 2008

    How odd that I agree with almost all of the above, including the comments! I’m a libertarian/conservative mix and voted for McCain-Palin.

    Maybe there’s hope for some consensus after all!

    One concern – Katherine’s list obvious includes people I’m not familiar with (not a scientist, just interested in science) but the one thing I wonder about if these people are where they are because that institute represents a good career choice or if they are emotionally committed to that particular line of research.

    The NIH has to consider them all and divvy up resources accordingly. Based on that alone, I’d like to see serious consideration given to Jeremy Berg, NIGMS.

    Is that a valid line of reasoning?

  8. #8 Ajolote
    November 6, 2008

    Seriously? You can live with Rahm Emanuel? Extreme, Pro-Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinian people Emanuel? Clintonista, hawkish, conservative democrat, pro-military expansion Emanuel? Uh, okay. So much for the”change” we need. And I totally disagree with you on RFK, Jr. He has been shunned by the Democratic party because he’s paranoid? Oh really? What is your source on that? If he’s been avoided by the party, it is because he does NOT want to associate with corrupt individuals, and because he tends to call them out on issues with which they’d rather not be confronted. With all due respect, you are just another faux-progressive academic who needs to leave the lab once in a while and inform yourself of how our political world truly functions. Oh, and your use of the term “conspiracy theorist” as a pejorative invokes the rolling of my eyeballs. Grow up and inform yourself professor. Perhaps delve into some independent media for your news once in a while.

  9. #9 Coturnix
    November 6, 2008

    Wow – Ajolote! Have I seen your name on this blog before? I doubt it, since you did not even read the “About Me” section.

    Do you know what you are talking about? Have you read the link I emphasized about RFK Jr? This is what every scientist and every educated person agrees with. He’s a wacko nutjob. And I used him as an example of a whole slew of people and organizations that never have a voice in the Democratic Party – which is a good thing – like anti-vaccination idiots, animal rights idiots, various New Age woo idiots, and other conspiracy theory wackaloons.

    And about Rahm – read this and this for starters. The guy loves Israel (which is a plus) and understand Israel (which is a plus). Furthermore, as a Chief of Staff he will have zero influence on policy – his job is to get Obama’s job done.

  10. #10 Coturnix
    November 6, 2008

    And this.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    November 6, 2008

    These picks, if true, would represent that kind of incompetence: Kennedy because he is a demonstrated ideologue who ignores reality if he doesn’t like it, Summers because he has a demonstrated record of being unable to lead (not just because he’s an idiot about women in science).

    Yes, that too.

    Ironically enough, Summers is how I’m two degrees of separation from Obama. Assuming the two of them have met (or will meet) in person, as seems plausible, then I met a guy who’s met the President-Elect. I only wish the meeting was with someone who didn’t make me want to shower off the slime immediately afterwards.

  12. #12 monson
    November 7, 2008

    I think that the chief of staff could very well have impact on policy.

  13. #13 xarkGirl
    November 7, 2008

    I am not a scientist, but I agree that it is vitally important that people who do have expertise to voice their opinions on these incredibly important appointments. Please go to change.gov. Please blog about it to inform us non-experts, please contact your representatives, do whatever you can. We’ve demonstrated the power of the Internet to elect an official, let’s keep the pressure on for officials that those elected reps choose.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Coturnix.

  14. #14 Casey
    November 7, 2008

    “RFK Jr as a head of a Federal Agency (either Interior or Environment) would be equivalent to Michael Crichton advising Bush on climate change”

    Kind of bad timing with this comment, considering Crichton just passed away.

  15. #15 llewelly
    November 7, 2008

    Sexism is not the only issue with Larry Summers. His infamous speech – and much of his other writing – contained a great deal of pseudoscience as well. Pseudoscience some of the gender relations researchers he was speaking to at the time of his infamous speech had long since debunked.

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