The American Association for the Advancement of Science just held its annual meeting in Boston, and Harvard president Drew Faust was among those greeting the hundreds of AAAS members involved in the organization’s mission to “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” Addressing the threat of massive cuts to all parts of the federal budget, scheduled to take effect on March 1 barring last-minute congressional action, Faust forcefully made her case for basic and applied scientific research as fundamental both to the nation’s intellectual life and to its economic livelihood. “The genomic revolution, the computational revolution, the acceleration of discovery in so many fields,” she said,
make this an age that rivals the seventeenth century’s Scientific Revolution in its promise for new understanding and human betterment. It would be worse than a tragedy to waste this moment full of promise, to leave answerable questions unanswered. It is all of our responsibility to ensure that this does not happen.…The American Association for the Advancement of Science must work to prevent the American Congress from becoming an American Association for the Retreat of Science. We all owe this to the future.
Barely a week later, the announcement of a new prize honoring medical and biological research offered some substantive and psychological support to those trying to make the case Faust outlined. The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences—established by Russian entrepreneur and philanthropist Yuri Milner and two couples: Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andMe, a genetics company; and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ’06 and Priscilla Chan ’07—will provide five $3-million grants annually, but its inaugural group of recipients, formally announced today, number 11. Among the winners are David Botstein ’63, a professor of genomics and molecular biology at Princeton who maps disease markers in the human genome, and professor of systems biology Eric S. Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Lander told New York Times reporter Dennis Overbye, “Their idea seems to be to grab society’s attention, to send a message that science is exciting, important, cool, our future. It’s a very important message here in the U.S.” Lander said he plans to use the prize money to help pay for new approaches to teaching biology online.
For more about Lander and the Broad Institute, read “Bigger Biology,” from this magazine’s archives.