Should there be a Presidential Debate about Science?

Yes, of course there should. And a large number of prominent scientists have put their shoulders to this idea and are pushing hard.This is embodied in the “Call for a Presidential Debate on Science and Technology”i-f082db2951b4daef166220119e8a89d9-sciencedebate2008.jpgYou should seriously consider going to this site and adding your name to those supporting this initiative. Seriously. You may have come to this blog for the gravy recipe, or to get the latest news on the War on Christmas, but most likely you are here on account of your interest in science. So you are the kind of person they are looking for.Is it adequate to have science and technology, in this day and age, only an issue to the extent that yahooistic ruffians like Tim Russert and Chris Matthews happen to think of science related questions for their debate-and-beauty contests? Shouldn’t the electorate be allowed to actually assess the candidates on their knowledge of critically important scientific issues, there ability to understand these issues, and their policies regarding these issues?Look:

The day before the most recent Democratic presidential debate, the media reported a new study demonstrating that U.S. middle-school students, even in poorly performing states, do better on math and science tests than many of their peers in Europe. The bad news is that students in Asian countries, who are likely to be our chief economic competitors in the 21st century, significantly outperform all U.S. students, even those in the highest-achieving states.While these figures were not raised in recent Democratic or Republican debates, they reflect a major challenge for the next president: the need to guide both the public and Congress to address the problems that have produced this “science gap,” as well as the serious consequences that may result from it.[NYT OpEd]


During the past seven years of the Bush administration, America has been subject to what can only be called antiscientific governance. Scientists have been ignored, threatened, suppressed, and censored across agencies, across areas of expertise, and across issues. Policies have gone forward repeatedly without adequate scientific input and sometimes in spite of it, and have subsequently backfired.The picture couldn’t have been any more stark this past summer, when former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified before Congress that he’d been blocked by the Bush administration from offering his expertise on issues ranging from embryonic stem cell research to mental-health problems emerging in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks….[Chris Mooney in Seed]

From the Science Debate 2008 Web Site:

Science Debate 2008 is a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a growing number of scientists and other concerned citizens. The signatories to our “Call for a Presidential Debate on Science & Technology” include Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, presidents of universities, congresspersons of both major political parties, business leaders, religious leaders, former presidential science advisors, the editors of America’s major science journals, writers, and the current and several past presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among many others.We believe current scientific and technological challenges can bring out the best in the entrepreneurial American spirit. America can be a leader in finding cures for our worst diseases, invent the best alternative energy sources, and graduating the most scientifically literate children in the world – or we can concede these economic and humanitarian benefits to other countries.We believe a debate would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities on these issues, and it is hard to imagine any candidate not wishing to be involved in such an occasion.[SciDeb8-2008]

Many questions can be raised about the nature of a scientific debate among the candidates. Is this something that happens during the primaries, or later? (I suggest both.) Who runs it? (I suggest the NAS.) Who asks the questions? Well, Ira Flatow, obviously.There. Pretty much settled. But do go and express your own views on this,and join the push.

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