Nobel Prize winner throws his support behind Obama

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday said one of his first tasks was to join a group of Nobel winners who endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president.

Martin Chalfie, one of the winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, explains his work during a news conference in New York October 8, 2008. Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y Tsien shared the 2008 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein GFP. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The 61 Nobel winners published an open letter last month saying the nation “urgently needs a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology” to address issues such as energy, disease and economic competitiveness.

“We really need to have more support for science in the White House, and we haven’t had that in the last eight years,” said Martin Chalfie, a professor of biological sciences at Columbia University.

The Bush administration has come under criticism from researchers and former government officials for meddling in science and for mixing science with politics.

Chalfie shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry with two other scientists for their work with a green fluorescent protein that glows and allows researchers to illuminate tumor cells, trace toxins and monitor genes.

Upon learning he won, Chalfie said he contacted a friend, Robert Horvitz, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2002, to join the Obama supporters. Horvitz was one of the 61 Nobel winners in medicine, physics and chemistry to sign the letter.

In the letter, the Nobel winners wrote that during the Bush administration, “vital parts of our country’s scientific enterprise have been damaged by stagnant or declining federal support” and “the government’s scientific advisory process has been distorted by political considerations.”

“As a result, our once dominant position in the scientific world has been shaken and our prosperity has been placed at risk,” they wrote.

“Sen. Obama understands that presidential leadership and federal investments in science and technology are crucial elements in successful governance of the world’s leading country,” they wrote.

Others who have accused the Bush administration of political interference include Dr. Richard Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general, who said his speeches were censored and he was prevented from speaking publicly on issues such as contraceptives and abstinence-only sex education.

Earlier this year, watchdog groups said Bush’s decision to intervene in setting air pollution standards was part of a long-standing pattern of meddling in environmental science.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman