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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nobel Laureates Endorse Obama

Among Nobel laureates, President Obama appears to have won by a landslide.

Sixty-eight Nobel Prize winners in the science fields, including the two Americans who won this year's chemistry prize, have signed a letter endorsing Mr. Obama over his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.

“President Obama understands the key role science has played in building a prosperous America,” the laureates wrote in a letter that was released on Wednesday. Mr. Obama “has championed investment in science and technology research that is the engine of our economy.”

The signers said that Mr. Romney, by contrast, “supports a budget that, if implemented, would devastate a long tradition of support for public research and investment in science at a time when this country's future depends, as never before, on innovation.”

In September, 2008, 61 American winners of a science Nobel - in medicine, physics or chemistry - signed a similar lette r endorsing Mr. Obama over Senator John McCain, a number that rose to 76 by the end of October.

That October, Martin Chalfie, a professor of biological sciences at Columbia, was awakened by a phone call from Stockholm that he was one of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He had heard of the letter endorsing Mr. Obama and called a friend to make sure that he was added to the list of signatories.

“That was actually the very first thing that I did as a Nobel laureate,” Dr. Chalfie said. “Scientists should stand up and talk about what they feel is important for the country in terms of the long-term support research.”

Dr. Chalfie was one of the organizers of this year's letter and he e-mailed this year's chemistry Nobel winners, Robert J. Lefkowitz of Duke University and Brian K. Kobilka of Stanford to sign. Both signed.

“I feel the Obama administration has been doing a good job of supporting basic research given the constraints of the economy,” Dr. Kobilka said.

He said he did not know much about what Mitt Romney would do as president, but judging from the budget that Mr. Romney's running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, had proposed as chairman of the House Budget Committee, it seemed likely that there would be substantial cuts in spending including at the National Institutes of Health.

“I think it's important for the country for us to keep funding basic research, and that's why I signed on,” Dr. Kobilka said.

Two people who signed the 2008 letter but not this year's are Steven Chu, a 1997 Nobelist in physics, and Dr. Harold E. Varmus, a 1989 Nobelist in medicine. That is because Mr. Obama is now their boss. Dr. Chu is the current Energy secretary and Dr. Varmus is director of the National Cancer Institute.