During his affirmation listening to, Eric Lander — the nominee to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy — confronted criticism from each Democratic and Republican lawmakers for his controversial previous actions, in the end admitting his mistake in understating the position of two feminine scientists within the discovery of CRISPR gene-editing know-how.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, mentioned throughout her opening assertion on the listening to final week that she was “troubled” by points surrounding Lander’s nomination. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee reportedly delayed his confirmation hearing to permit for a “full and thorough review of Dr. Lander’s record and qualifications,” mentioned committee rating member Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi.
“You have been criticized for downplaying the contributions of the female Nobel laureates I just mentioned, for toasting a well-known racist, misogynistic anti-Semite, and for attending lunch meetings with the late, disgraced Jeffrey Epstein,” Duckworth mentioned.
Lander later admitted through the listening to that he understated the work of Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier — the 2020 winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry — in a paper he published in 2016 concerning the pioneers behind CRISPR, a know-how that permits researchers to edit DNA sequences and modify genes.
“I made a mistake,” Lander mentioned. “When I make a mistake, I own it and try to do better. I should’ve written those paragraphs differently to make my intention crystal clear.”
Lander additionally responded to considerations about his affiliation with Epstein — a distinguished financier and intercourse offender, who died by suicide in jail in 2019 — after Wicker pressed Lander to present the committee with info relating to a gathering that Lander had with Epstein in 2012.
Lander responded that he met Epstein briefly at two occasions within the span of three weeks in 2012. The Broad Institute — the place Lander is founder and president — by no means requested or obtained donations from Epstein or his basis, he mentioned.
“I chose to have no association whatsoever with him,” Lander mentioned. “I did not know about his sordid history before that [meeting]. As soon as I learned about it, I had nothing to do with him thereafter.”
None of the senators requested extra questions concerning the 2018 toast Lander made to James Watson on his ninetieth birthday referenced by Duckworth in her opening feedback. Watson, the co-discoverer of the double-helix form of DNA, was identified in his later life for his racist and sexist views, sparking outrage on Twitter that Lander would toast him. Lander apologized shortly after the incident.
Despite the critiques, a lot of the listening to was targeted on Lander’s views on a variety of science and technology-related points, together with local weather change, cybersecurity and analysis. He famous that considered one of his first priorities as director can be to handle the gender and variety gaps that exist in STEM fields.
“We have to work with academia and industry to address power dynamics in academic labs and in corporate labs,” he mentioned.
Lander’s nomination may have to be accredited by the committee earlier than the total Senate votes on his affirmation. If confirmed, his place might be elevated to a cabinet-level position, and he would be the final of President Biden’s cupboard nominees to full the affirmation course of.
Lander’s nomination and Biden’s elevation of the position to cupboard standing were praised by the science community. Though some senators expressed their considerations through the listening to, none brazenly indicated they might oppose his affirmation.