November 14, 2013 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

I have written a few times in this blog about the stupidity of certain politicians in relation to their positions about science and the role of science in public policy. It is time for me to admit that, thankfully, many politicians are actually quite enlightened about the value of science. Today I will identify two such individuals, albeit not current politicians, who had a sophisticated appreciation of the relationship between scientific inquiry and the understanding of the world such inquiry produces to public policy, national security, and the underpinnings of democracy.

This year marks the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the National Academy of Sciences. This national academy was founded in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. He had a good deal going on that year, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation among other things. But he still possessed and demonstrated the vision to create a body of distinguished scientists who would be available to provide scientific advice for the United States government.

The other politician I will identify as having an unusually sophisticated understanding of the central and important role for science, not only in serving to advise public policy but in improving the wellbeing of mankind was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. As evidence I offer the address Kennedy made to the National Academy of Sciences on October 22, 1963 in celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of its founding. I note as well that this speech was made one month before his death. I will not write much more as I am going to urge you to listen to all twenty four minutes and twenty seconds of his speech. This speech was delivered fifty years ago and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the academies founding. It reminds us that no matter how disparaging some of today’s politicians are of science and the understanding it provides of our universe and ourselves, there are also those who understand the benefits it promises.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.