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Biden Assembles New Members of PCAST

October 6, 2021

On September 22, President Biden announced the new members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). This independent Federal Advisory Committee is responsible for making recommendations to the President on Science and Technology policy, and providing evidence-backed insights to inform other policy areas.  Members are typically experts from a range of disciplines, including industry and academia. 

The White House has described this as the most diverse PCAST in history. Of Biden’s appointees, 50 percent are female, while people of color and immigrants make up more than one third of the Council. This group marks a departure from the prior Administration in key ways. It took President Trump nearly three years to establish his own PCAST. Not only has the current Administration moved much more quickly, but it has almost doubled the size of the body while putting a greater emphasis on members from academia – a notable difference from the industry-heavy composition of President Trump’s Council. 

PCAST has three co-chairs, including Eric Lander, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), along with Frances Arnold and Maria T. Zuber. FABBS is happy to report that the Council also includes Jennifer Richeson, a social psychologist from the Yale University Department of Psychology, a FABBS Affiliate department. In announcing her appointment, the White House identified Richeson as “one of America’s leading scholars of interracial interactions, racial identity, bias and prejudice, cultural diversity, social inequality, and injustice.”  

PCAST held its first meeting on September 28 and 29, and the contributions of the behavioral sciences came up specifically. In a notable exchange on pandemic preparedness, PCAST member Sue Hellman brought up the science of understanding behavior change and belief, asking, “How do we get people, beyond what politicians say, to feel good about pandemic response?” Panelist Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, responded by emphasizing that these considerations are essential, and their insights need to be more widely implemented. He referenced two examples, one pertaining to evangelical communities and one to African American communities, in which research on trust-building and effective communication has allowed public health workers to overcome vaccine hesitancy. 

The Council was guided in this meeting, and will be moving forward, by a letter that President Biden wrote to Eric Lander laying out key questions about harnessing science and technology to benefit the American public: 

  1. What can we learn from the pandemic about what is possible—or what ought to be possible— to address the widest range of needs related to our public health? 
  1. How can breakthroughs in science and technology create powerful new solutions to address climate change—propelling market-driven change, jump-starting economic growth, improving health, and growing jobs, especially in communities that have been left behind?  
  1. How can the United States ensure that it is the world leader in the technologies and industries of the future that will be critical to our economic prosperity and national security, especially in competition with China? 
  1. How can the United States ensure that it is the world leader in the technologies and industries of the future that will be critical to our economic prosperity and national security, especially in competition with China? 
  1. How can we ensure the long-term health of science and technology in our nation?  

The first meeting served as a listening session, allowing members to hear from speakers from diverse backgrounds, including the Director of the National Science Foundation, a former Secretary of the Navy, public health experts, and industry executives, among others. PCAST will next meet on October 18, to discuss combatting and adapting to climate change.  

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