THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 14, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT NATIONAL MEDAL OF SCIENCE AWARD CEREMONY
The East Room
3:23 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you
and welcome to the White House. Thank you, Secretary Daley, and thank
you, Dr. Lane, for your leadership. Secretary Shalala, Dr. Colwell,
Representative Rick Smith, Representative Eddie Berniece Johnson, thank
you for your support of science and technology in the United States
Congress, across party lines. We welcome Sir Christopher Meyer, the
British Ambassador to the United States, here to be with us today.
Every year I look forward to this day. I always learn
something from the work of the honorees -- some of you I know
personally; others, I've read your books. Some of you, I'm still trying
to grasp the implications of what it is I'm supposed to understand and
don't quite yet. (Laughter.) But this has been -- I must say, one of
the great personal joys of being President for me has been the
opportunity that I've had to be involved with people who are pushing the
frontiers of science and technology, and to study subjects that I
haven't really thought seriously about since I was in my late teens.
And I thank you for that.
When Congress minted America's first coin in 1792, one of the
mottos was "Liberty, parent of science and industry." Very few of those
coins survived, but the Smithsonian has lent us one today. I actually
have one. It's worth $300,000. (Laughter.) Not enough to turn the
head of a 25-year-old .committee executive -- (laughter) -- but to a
President, it's real money. (Laughter.) And I thought you might like
to see it because it embodies a commitment that was deep in the
consciousness of Thomas Jefferson and many of our other founders. And
we could put the same inscription on your medals today.
You have used your freedom to ask and answer some of the
greatest questions of our time. Each of you has been a brilliant
innovator, and more -- breaking down barriers between disciplines,
broadening the frontiers of knowledge, bringing the products of pure
research into everyday lives of millions of people, helping to educate
the next generation of inventors and innovators.
For this, America and, indeed, the entire world is in your
debt. It is terribly important that we continue to open the world of
science to every American. The entire store of human knowledge is now
doubling every five years. In just the eight years since I first
presented these medals, think about what has occurred: In 1993, no
one's computer had a zip drive or a pentium chip; there were only 50
sites on the worldwide web -- amazing, January of 1993. Today, there
are about 50 million. In 1993, cloning animals we still science
fiction. But Dolly the sheep would be born just four years later.
Since 1993, we've sent robots to rove on Mars, created prototype cars
that get 70 to 80 miles a gallon, invented Palm Pilots that put the
Internet on our belts -- and lead to the increasing nightmares of a busy
The work that you and your colleagues have done has changed
everything about our lives. It has brought us to the threshold of a new
scientific voyage that promises to change everything all over again.
Perhaps no science today is more compelling than the effort to
decipher the human genome, the string of 3 billion letters that make up
our genes. In my lifetime, we'll go from knowing almost nothing about
how our genes work to enlisting genes in the struggle to prevent and
cure illness. This will be the scientific breakthrough of the century
-- perhaps of all time. We have a profound responsibility to ensure
that the life-saving benefits of any cutting-edge research are available
to all human beings.
Today, we take a major step in that direction by pledging to
lead a global effort to make the raw data from DNA sequencing available
to scientists everywhere, to benefit people everywhere. To this end, I
am pleased to announce a ground-breaking agreement between the United
States and the United Kingdom, one which I reconfirmed just a few hours
ago in a conversation with Prime Minister Blair and one which brings the
distinguished British Ambassador here today.
This agreement says in the strongest possible terms our
genome, the book in which all human life is written, belongs to every
member of the human race. Already the Human Genome Project, funded by
the United States and the United Kingdom, requires its grant recipients
to make the sequences they discover publicly available within 24 hours.
I urge all other nations, scientists and corporations to adopt this
policy and honor its spirit. We must ensure that the profits of human
genome research are measured not in dollars, but in the betterment of
human life. (Applause.)
Already, we can isolate genes that cause Parkinson's disease
and some forms of cancer, as well as a genetic variation that seems to
protect its carriers from AIDS. Next month, the Department of Energy's
Joint Genome Project will complete DNA sequences for three more
chromosomes whose genes play roles in more than 150 diseases, from
leukemia to kidney disease to schizophrenia. And those are just the
ones we know about.
What we don't know is how these genes affect the process of
disease and how they might be used to prevent or to cure it. Right now,
we are Benjamin Franklin with electricity and a kite; not Thomas Edison
with a useable light bulb.
As we take the next step and use this information to develop
therapies and medicines, private companies have a major role. By making
the raw data publicly available, companies can promote competition and
innovation and spur the pace of scientific advance. They need
incentives to throw their top minds into expensive research ahead. They
need patent protection for their discoveries and the prospect of
marketing them successfully and it is in the government's interest to
see that they get it.
But as scientists race to decipher our genetic alphabet, we
need to think now about the future and see clearly that, in science and
technology, the future lies in openness. We should recognize that
access to the raw data and responsible use of patents and licensing is
the most sensible way to build a sustainable market for genetic
medicine. Above all, we should recognize that this is a fundamental
challenge to our common humanity and that keeping our genetic code
accessible is the right thing to do.
We should also remember that, like the Internet,
supercomputers and so many other scientific advances, our ability to
read our genetic alphabet grew from decades of research that began with
government funding. Every American has an investment in unlocking the
human genome and all Americans should be proud of their investment in
this and other frontiers of science.
I thank all of you for all you have done to build
international and national support for American investment in science
and technology. I am grateful that this administration has had the
opportunity to increase our funding for civilian research every year and
that we have requested an unprecedented increase this year, in areas
from nanotechnology to clean energy to space exploration.
As the new century opens, we are setting out on a new voyage
of discovery, not just into human cells but into the human heart. We
cannot know what lies ahead. Each new discovery presents even more new
questions: What is the purpose of the 97 percent of our genetic makeup
whose function we don't know? What will we find in the genes left to
identify? How will we make sure the benefits of genetic research are
widely and fairly shared? How will we make sure that millions of
Americans living longer lives also live better and more fulfilling ones?
Almost 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark set out on a voyage of
discovery that was planned in this room, where Thomas Jefferson and
Merriweather Lewis laid out maps on tables, right where you're sitting
and -- though it would be politically incorrect today -- tromped around
on animal skins on the floor. (Laughter.) That discovery would not
only map the contours of our continent, but expand forever the frontier
of our national imagination.
Before setting out, when Merriweather Lewis was here in the
East Room with Thomas Jefferson, poring over maps and sharing the
lessons in natural science, he actually lived on the south side of this
room, in two small rooms that Thomas Jefferson had constructed in this
big room for him. I must say today, I wish I could ask all of you to do
the same. (Laughter.) I always feel that when I do this, the wrong
person is talking. I wish we could hear from all of you today.
One of the things that I wish I could do a better job of as
President is sparking the interest and understanding of every single
citizen in the work you do -- of everyone's ability to see how
profoundly significant what goes on in your labs and in your minds is to
their future. I do think the American people are coming a long way on
that, and I tried to talk in the State of the Union in ways that would
help. I also try to think of little ways to illustrate how you are
changing our conception of the most basic things -- what is big and what
is small; what is long and what is short. Dr. Lane has actually given
me a primer of what nanotechnology is and I can carry on a fairly
meaningful subject about something that is totally unfathomable to me.
And last year, Neil Armstrong and his colleagues came back to
the White House to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his walk on the
moon. And while he did it, as a part of the ceremony, he gave me --
just on loan -- a vacuum-packed moon rock which, if you see the
photographs now of the Oval Office with the two chairs and the couches
and the table in between, the moon rock is now visible to the world that
And when members of Congress and others come in and get all
heated up and angry over some issue, I often call a time out and I say,
"Hey, wait a minute. See that rock? It came off the moon. It's 3.6
billion years old. We're all just passing through; chill out."
(Laughter and applause.) It works every time. (Laughter.) So there's
a practical gain I got from scientific advance. (Laughter.)
There are many other things that have happened that have
enriched our lives. I have to acknowledge the presence here of my good
friend, Stevie Wonder, who has had a lot to do with improving musical
technology, and is obviously interested in some of the scientific
developments now going on, which might restore sight to people and other
movements to people who have suffered debilitating paralysis and other
things. And we thank you, Stevie, for being here today. (Applause.)
As our honorees receive their medals, we thank them, all of us
thank them for the way they have changed the way we view our planet and
broadened infinitely the ways we gather and store knowledge. You are
part of an unbroken chain from Lewis and Jefferson to Edison and
Einstein; from the cotton gin to the space shuttle; from a vaccine for
polio to the mysteries of DNA. I thank each of you for what you have
done to change our world and to enrich our minds, our imaginations, and
And I think -- I learned right before I came in here that it
is infinitely appropriate that you are receiving these awards on Albert
Einstein's birthday. So thank you very much. Congratulations.
Commander, please read the citations.
(The citations are read and the medals are presented.)
THE PRESIDENT: Now, ladies and gentlemen, I want to just say
two things in closing. First of all, we saw again today another triumph
of the scientific method. After two failures, all the other honorees
took off their glasses on their own. (Laughter.) It was truly amazing.
This has been a wonderful day. I'd like to invite all of you
to join us in the state dining room for a reception in honor of the
award recipients. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 3:47 P.M. EST