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Bush wins second term as US president

November 3, 2004 By Geoff Brumfiel This article courtesy of Nature News.

Experts anticipate friction between state and federal science policies.

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President George W. Bush's re-election means that the nation's policy on scientific issues ranging from stem cells to climate change will probably stay the course over the next four years. But a Republican victory in Congress could lead to some changes in key legislation.

Bush won a narrow victory in the popular vote over Democratic challenger John Kerry on 2 November. Kerry officially conceded the election at 1900 GMT, even as news outlets continued to report that several important swing states remained too close to call. "Congratulations, Mr. President," he reportedly said to Bush in a brief call to the Republican incumbent.

Republicans also carried the day in the House of Representatives, where they gained ten additional seats, and they made gains in the Senate, which remains divided.

The win for Bush means that current US policies on a range of contentious scientific issues are likely to remain unchanged. On the subject of global climate change, Bush had emphasized the scientific uncertainties involved, whereas Kerry had called for an immediate return to international negotiations on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Bush's victory means that the country will probably continue its wait-and-see approach, pushing for more scientific results before enacting specific policies or regulations. His victory will also mean continued support for a national nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Kerry had hoped to win that state by vowing to kill the programme, which is unpopular with most Nevadans. But Bush won by a slight, 2% margin.

Stem-cell ballot

The Bush win means that a federal ban on funding for embryonic stem-cell research is likely to remain in place. But the situation could become complicated, because in California a ballot initiative to raise $3 billion dollars for stem-cell research passed with the endorsement of its Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (see " California says 'yes' to stem-cell research").

The discrepancy between federal and state rules may create confusion among researchers over how to set up collaborations between states. Some senior scientists, including the former director of the National Institutes of Health, Harold Varmus, have expressed fears that it could lead to an exodus of stem-cell scientists to the state.

Oil and energy

The Republican party's gains in the nation's two houses of Congress suggest there will be a renewed push to pass a national energy bill that has languished in committees for the past two years. In its present form, this bill would fund just over a billion dollars' worth of research into new types of nuclear reactor (see " Congress split over funding for 'safe' nuclear reactor").

The Republicans' victory could also lead to revised calls to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling of oil and natural gas. The Bush administration may seek to reform the Endangered Species Act of 1973, to avoid what it sees as unnecessary economic burdens on landowners and industry.

Although policy will largely go unaffected, the names and faces of some senior officials are likely to change with the new administration. In the realm of science, it has been suggested that the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, might step down to be replaced by Mark McClellan, currently commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. It has also been suggested that John Marburger, the president's science adviser, is unlikely to hold his post for a second term.


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