White House Watch

Biden Appoints Social Scientist To Lead White House Science, Technology Office

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President Joe Biden appointed Alondra Nelson, a social scientist who has studied social inequality, to be the acting director of the White House science office.

Nelson will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) after serving as deputy director for science and society since Biden took office, until a permanent head is chosen, the White House announced Wednesday. Nelson received an undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of California, San Diego, and she received a doctorate in American studies from New York University, according to her LinkedIn profile.

“In this role, she brings social science expertise, including attention to issues of social inequality, explicitly into the work of Federal science and technology strategy and policy,” the White House said.

Nelson had been the president of the Social Science Research Council and a professor of sociology at Columbia University before joining the White House in 2021.

The OSTP is tasked with advising the president on the “scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of the economy, national security, homeland security, health, foreign relations, and the environment.” The office was established in 1976.

The OSTP has historically been led by physicists and environmental scientists, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Biden was forced to appoint Nelson after the previous OSTP head, Eric Lander, resigned on Feb. 7. Lander was forced out of the White House following an internal White House investigation which concluded he had bullied and demeaned subordinates.

“The President accepted Dr. Eric Lander’s resignation letter this evening with gratitude for his work at OSTP on the pandemic, the Cancer Moonshot, climate change, and other key priorities,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement at the time.

“He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years ahead,” Psaki said.

The White House also announced Wednesday that former National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins would temporarily serve as both Biden’s science advisor and the co-chair of the White House Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

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