The Most Science-Friendly President

Who do you think should be named the most science-friendly president?

Throughout the history of the United States, presidents and other elected officials of all political stripes have supported science and incorporated scientific thinking into how they govern, but that connection is not as well known as it should be.

Our Science-Friendly President contest gave thousands of people the opportunity to share their favorite science-friendly president with their friends and family and highlight the fact that science and democracy are indivisible.

Learn more about the history of Science and Democracy in the United States.

And the winner is....

“No nation can be really great unless it is great in peace, in industry, integrity, honesty . . . [T]he special ability of the artist, the man of letters, the man of science, and the man of business . . . all these are necessary in a great nation.“

  • Created five national parks, 51 federal bird preserves, and 150 national forests in response to growing scientific evidence that industrialization was threatening land and species.
  • Pushed for laws such as the Pure Food and Drug Act, which would require scientific testing to ensure that medical and food products were safe, and for drug labels that would list active ingredients.
  • Partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to collect more than 11,000 animal specimens from an African expedition, and mapped a 1,000-mile-long river in Brazil.

First runner-up....

“The strength of our nation depends in large part on the ideas and technologies that have emerged from our pursuit of questions at the frontiers of science.”

  • Signed legislation authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency to study and identify toxic waste sites for cleanup.
  • Created the Department of Energy to respond to an energy crisis, pushed for scientific research into alternative energy sources, and oversaw the use of the best available technology to improve vehicle fuel efficiency.
  • After the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, signed legislation expanding safety inspections led by engineers.

Rounding out the field....

“Man is not the only animal who labors; but he is the only one who improves his workmanship. This improvement he effects by discoveries and inventions.”

  • Established the essential role of independent science as a guide to U.S. policy makers by signing a law that created the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Supported agricultural innovations and land conservation by establishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the land grant university system.
  • In addition to being the only U.S. president to obtain a patent (for a device that could lift boats over shoals), he oversaw the issuing of more than 16,000 patents—the most of any president at the time.

“We often speak of scientific ‘miracles’—forgetting that these are not miraculous happenings at all, but rather the product of hard work, long hours, and disciplined intelligence.”

  • Established science-based standards for reducing pollution, created the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and signed the Clean Air Act into law.
  • Oversaw the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires environmental impact studies for many large projects; at least 25 states and 80 countries have adopted laws inspired by this act.
  • Worked with Congress to pass a new Endangered Species Act, which called for scientific studies to determine whether a given species falls under the act’s protection; today, more than 2,000 species are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

“As a nation, we have no natural resource more precious than our intellectual resources. . . . Scientific knowledge must be renewed and expanded in each generation.”

  • Supported efforts to ban chlorofluorocarbons in response to growing scientific evidence that pollution was widening a hole in the earth’s ozone layer.
  • Accepted the evidence that acid rain was largely caused by sulfur and nitrogen pollution from coal-fired power plants and pushed Congress to reduce those emissions.
  • Strongly supported space research including satellites sent to Venus and Jupiter, and the Mission to Planet Earth initiative, which increased satellite monitoring for global environmental science (including the science behind climate change).

“Science today is a priceless heritage from the past. We, as trustees of that inheritance, have an obligation to increase it for the benefit of posterity.”

  • Fostered innovation through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which advanced U.S. military technology and eventually led to the creation of the Internet and many other important inventions.
  • Launched the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to engage in scientific research and space exploration.
  • Helped educate a new generation of scientists and engineers via the National Defense Education Act, which secured America’s place as a global leader in research and technology.

“Freedom [is] the first-born daughter of science.”

  • Commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which produced maps of the American West and documented 200 plants and animals, and signed a law initiating a survey that would produce detailed nautical charts of America’s coastlines.  
  • Sold 6,000 of his books, including many on science, to restock the Library of Congress after British forces destroyed it in the War of 1812.
  • In addition to his personal interest in inventions and fossils, he founded the University of Virginia, saying that, “All the branches of science . . . should be taught in their highest degree.”

“Science remains universal, and the fruits of science, if wisely chosen, provide a means by which humanity can realize a full and abundant life.”

  • Advanced the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” by initiating the Apollo Project.
  • Responded to the risks of nuclear weapons testing (radiation, proliferation) by negotiating the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union from conducting aboveground detonations.
  • Promoted a science-based approach to health care and significantly increased funding for the study, treatment, and care of people with intellectual disabilities.

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