This is an insight written by Kathryn Obisesan on the recent Bahá’í Chair for World Peace Annual Lecture, Even a Moonshot Needs a Flight Plan: Genetics and Ethics in the Obama Administration, held at the University of Maryland on October 10th, 2019.
Moonshot (.n) An ambitious, bold, and innovative initiative. (Professor Alondra Nelson)
This is a term often used in the corporate world, but it also has a forgotten political significance. 60 years ago, JFK said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth…We choose to go to the moon in this decade not because that will be easy but because it will be hard..” From this initiative, the term Moonshot was coined.
Alondra Nelson, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton centers her talk on a little known moonshot (oxymoron) of former President Barack Obama. She opens her lecture on the topic with a discussion of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Former President Barack Obama was the first to facilitate the Office of Science and Technology Policy operating at an impressive scope. Traditionally, in other administrations, the office has operated as a trivial measure, almost always overlooked and understaffed. Professor Nelson highlights how current President Donald Trump’s administration took a year to appoint a director to OSTP while the Obama administration did it in less than 3 months.
Under Obama, the operations of OSTP were crucial. The office covered issues ranging from climate change, to nanotechnology, to agriculture, and employees of OSTP were granted security clearances for the first time in the history of the office. Apart from OSTP, Obama also kept up his personal involvement in issues of science technology by publishing many articles centering around the subject. More casually, he also instituted and hosted the first yearly white house science fairs.
As stated by Alondra Nelson, President Obama’s noted special attention to science and technology can be illuminated in two quotes from him: “Let’s make sure all of our healthcare policies are grounded not only in science but also clear ethics.” and “Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us.” Obama was concerned with creating an ethical framing of federal science. His Moonshot was facilitating a normative cohesion between ethics and federal science
As a Government and Politics major, I will gladly sit through a six-plus hour conference on human rights or a lecture on the comprehensive history of comparative politics. But science, opposingly makes me wary or worse, tired. But the image Alondra Nelson creates of the interaction of science and technology, ethics, and the Obama Administration is anything but boring. Invigorating, engaging, and, best of all, surprising, are how I would describe this annual lecture.
You can watch the video of the annual lecture on our youtube page here.
You can find out more about the Bahá’í Chair by watching our video here.
About the Author: Kathryn Obisesan is a senior Government and Politics – International Relations and Economics double major. She also has studied International Relations and Multilateral Diplomacy in Geneva, Switzerland. Through bringing awareness and implementing thoughtful global philosophy and theory, she hopes the world can progress towards an order rooted in peace and understanding.