So how likely is Obama to bring science the new day that his ecstatic supporters expect? According to savvy Washington observers, the cost-free changes--several of them extremely important--will very likely happen as soon as the new Administration takes over. Obama is expected to swiftly end the ban on federal research using post-2001 embryonic stem cells and to restore the influence of mainstream science in the high councils of the government.
But his other, pricier promises--including the overall boost in funding, steps to improve opportunities for young researchers, and a greater support for risky research--will, according to savvy Washington observers, take a good deal longer to come true, if in fact they ever do. Obama will arrive in a capital beset by monumental challenges, including a huge budget deficit, a worldwide financial meltdown, a distressed populace demanding action on jobs and health insurance, a nearly decade-long backlog of undone infrastructure projects, and a pair of intractable wars. And he will have to fashion solutions to these immense problems using severely straitened resources.
I think everyone working in science is expecting things will be rough for at least another year in terms of funding. So I'm not optimistic about the FY09 budget that has yet to be formed. The only question is whether many parts of science can hang on for a while longer till things improve?