US News

Who’s who in Biden’s science team and what does “elevated to cabinet” mean?

On Saturday Joe Biden announced new members of his science team and made a historic move to elevate its leader to cabinet. What will that mean?

Who’s who in Biden’s science team and what does “elevated to cabinet” mean?

President-elect Joe Biden took steps this weekend clearly demonstrating his commitment to science and facts, something Donald Trump previously mocked him for.

"We’re going to lead with science and truth," Biden said on Saturday in a speech introducing his new appointees in Delaware. "We believe in both." He added; "these are among the brightest, most dedicated people not only in the country but the world."

Biden said in Delaware that his science team will focus on five key areas: the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, the climate crisis, industry technology advancements and the long-term health of science and tech in the country.

Who are the seven senior members of Biden’s science team?

Joe Biden has elected some of the most highly experienced and distinguished scientists, researchers and policy makers in the country to form his science department.

Eric Lander

Eric Lander, if confirmed by the Senate, will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and in addition will serve as Biden’s science advisor.

A distinguished mathematician and biologist, Lander is a professor of biology at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Medical School. He is founding director of a genome research centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and co-chaired President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Alondra Nelson

At Lander’s right hand will be Alondra Nelson, the deputy director for science and society. Nelson is President of the Social Science Research Council and a professor at Princeton. Nelson is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.

Maria Zuber and Frances H. Arnold

Maria Zuber and Frances H. Arnold will serve as co-chairs of Biden’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Frances H. Arnold

Frances Arnold is currently professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology, and in 2018 she became the fifth woman in history and the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Maria Zuber

Maria Zuber is a professor of Geophysics and oversees MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research laboratories and centres, as well as leading the University’s Climate Action Plan. Zuber has held leadership roles on ten NASA missions. She is the first woman to lead a science department at MIT and the first to lead a NASA planetary mission.

Kei Koizumi

Kei Koizumi will be OSTP chief of staff, and Narda Jones will serve as OSTP legislative affairs director.

Kei Koizumi has been a Senior Advisor at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Under President Obama, he was Assistant Director for Federal Research & Development and Senior Advisor to the National Science and Technology Council at OSTP.

Narda Jones

Narda Jones most recently served as the Senior Technology Policy Advisor for the Democratic staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. She has also held several senior roles at the Federal Communications Commission.

Dr. Francis S. Collins

Finally, Dr. Francis S. Collins will continue as director of the National Institutes of Health. He was appointed the 16th Director of the NIH by President Barack Obama in 2009 and President Trump elected that he continue in the role in 2017.

Dr Collins is best known for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which achieved a mapping of all the genes of the human genome. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.

What does “elevated to cabinet” mean?

Eric Lander’s role as director of the OSTP is a position that will be promoted to cabinet status. This has never happened before; usually the role sits within in the Executive Office of the President. The EO of the president communicates the president's message and deals with the federal budget, security and other high priorities. Other offices within the EO of the president include the offices of the National Security Council, Drug Control Policy and Economic Advisors.

In contrast, cabinet members - which Lander will become should his nomination be confirmed - serve as advisors to the president. They include the vice president, chief of staff, heads of executive departments and other high-ranking government officials such as secretary of state and the director of national intelligence. Cabinet members are nominated by the president and must be approved by a simple majority of the Senate.

In his unveiling event Biden explained "For the first time in history, I'm going to be elevating the presidential science adviser to a Cabinet rank, because we think it's that important."

Biden’s historic move could not be in starker contrast to Donald Trump’s approach to science; the position Lander will fill sat vacant for nearly two years under Trump.

It seems clear that the president-elect’s intention is to send a strong message to the American people - that science, often ignored or even ridiculed during the Trump administration, has a crucial place in the Biden-Harris administration and will exert a certain influence on its policies.