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  • Obama's transition team raises hopes for developing world science


Prospects for enhanced US interest in promoting science in developing countries have been substantially raised by two appointments to the team set up by president-elect Barack Obama to oversee the design and staffing of his new administration.

One of the transition team members responsible for shaping the new Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) will be Thomas Kalil, who served under President Bill Clinton as deputy assistant for Technology and Economic Policy.

He will be assisted by Mario Molina, the Mexican-born chemist best known for his work on chlorofluorocarbons that led to the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer, for which he shared the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1995.

Both Kalil and Molina have, as part of a wide range of professional activities, been actively engaged in initiatives that embrace scientific relationships with the developing world.

Kalil, for example, who is currently special assistant to the chancellor for science and technology at the University of California, Berkeley, also serves as the chair of the Global Health Working Group of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Molina, who is a professor of physical chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, and served on Clinton's Committee of Advisors in Science and Technology (1994–2000), has maintained close links with scientific colleagues in Latin America.

"The appointments are another indication that Obama is going to be good for science, and especially for international scientific cooperation," says John Daly, a former senior official at the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Molina's scientific background and Latin American origins are expected to be particularly useful in helping the Obama administration develop its strategy on combating climate change, and in bringing developing countries into a new agreement once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

"Inviting Molina to join Obama's work team is of consequence for developing countries," says Eduardo Sanhueza, an adviser to Chile's National Advisory Committee on Climate Change, and a member of the Chilean delegation to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"As a Latin American he can bring a view more sensible of the way things work in the developing world, especially in the development of policies and international agreements."

Obama has already promised to raise the status of science in his administration. In particular, he has promised that the head of the OSTP, who acts as the presidential science adviser, will also be a member of his cabinet.

And one of his first acts as president is likely to be approval of legislation allowing research on human stem cells, which had been proscribed by President George W Bush.

It is also believed that Nina Federoff, who was last year appointed as chief scientific adviser to the Department of State, will be retained in her position.

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