… maybe they’ll actually do something about them.
Remember the Democratic and Republican party debates that were held just before that major international meeting about climate change, participated in by every country in the world? Of course you do. Do you remember the candidates’ responses to the questions about climate change posed during those debates? No, you don’t. Not a single question about climate change, or any other big science issue, was asked.
When we think about the big science issues, climate change is often one of the main topics that comes first to mind. But there are many other big science issues that should be more openly and full discussed by candidates in the ongoing US Presidential election, as well as other state and federal elections. ScienceDebate.org has been collecting questions by interested citizens. Here is a sampling (go HERE to see all the questions and submit your own).:
- How would you reduce our pollution from fossil fuel combustion and encourage more American jobs in energy efficiency?
- Will you support science-based tobacco product regulation, and so stop FDA ban of e-cigarettes, a low-risk alternative that reduces smoking?
- How should we manage global population growth?
- What policies will you put forth to ensure scientific literacy?
- How do we ensure adequate clean fresh water for the US in years to come?
- Will you support substantial funding for high capacity energy storage and enhanced long distance electrical grids?
- Will you support a person’s right to obtain genetic information about them that has been collected by government funded projects?
- Will you bring back the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)?
- How would you address the world’s aging nuclear arsenals?
- What steps will you take in dealing with the threat that current agricultural monocultures pose towards biodiversity?
- What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?
- How would you ensure that government policy is based on evidence and science rather than ideology or personal opinion?
- What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and when should exemptions be allowed?
- Do you believe that basic research should receive government funding, or should it all be left to the private sector?
- Given states’ rights, do you justify a ban on stem cell research in states that support it?
- We lack cyber security, from voting machines to governmental systems. How would you address cyber security?
- There is a distinct correlation between “fracking” and increased seismic (earthquake) activity. What are your views on fracking?
- How would you make the NIH a more efficient funder of government health efforts?
- What steps should the United States take to protect our population from emerging diseases?
- What would you as US president do to harden the American electrical grid against severe EMP events?
- What Will You Do to Reduce The Human and Economic Costs of Mental Illness?
As Shawn Otto recently pointed out, science is central to a large number of our policy challenges, but there are almost no scientists in Congress (about a half dozen during any given term). In fact, we don’t necessarily need a lot more scientists in Congress, but we do need to have science savvy people in elected office. What better way is there to ensure a higher level of science awareness than to make science policy a normal part of our election cycles, through debates, policy statements, and the journalism that covers those elections?
ScienceDebate.Org has been pushing for an actual science debate for a few POTUS elections now. They have had great success in getting their message out … most people have heard of the organization by now. And, there have been some successes in getting the candidates to address science. For example, when President Obama was challenged by Governor Mitt Romney, the two of them produced science policy statements.
This year is different from previous years. For the first time, climate change, one of the big science issues, is part of several national level campaigns. Oddly, the US press seems to be moving very slowly in addressing the fact that more and more citizens are concerned about this and other science issues. But with a bit of a push, the big networks and major journalistic outlets can be convinced to press candidates to address these issues.
Look again at the list of science policy questions above. My impression is that when a lot of people hear about a science debate, they imagine something different, where the candidates are asked science questions, to test their science literacy. That is not what the sciencedebate.org project is about. Candidates for national office, as well as state and local office, are expected to understand economics, crime, international relations, health care, and all sorts of other academic areas. They are not tested on their ability to write the equation for Pareto Efficiency, tactical strategies for dealing with a hostage situation, to speak widely spoken foreign languages, or demonstrate that they can conduct a liver transplant. They are asked about policy, like those science questions listed above. Not only should candidates be able to do that, but the people who are considering voting for them (or not) should have a good idea of how a given candidate will address these issues, or at least, to have evidence that the candidates have more than a vague idea of what these issues entail.
Sheril Kirshenbaum notes,
On Wednesday we’ll watch another Republican presidential debate, but how much do you expect to hear about topics like mental health and climate change? Funding for biomedical research and energy? Research innovation and global leadership? Given these are the issues that will impact the way all Americans live for decades to come, why are they so often the exception in debates, rather than the expectation?
ScienceDebat.org has produced a very compelling commercial that makes this point, and if you agree (and you know you do!) please pass this around on the usual social media for people to see. Here it is:
Here is something you should know: “ScienceDebate.org and Research!America, a group that advocates for medical research, commissioned a national poll that showed that 87% of likely voters think the candidates ought to be well-versed on these issues. The group held online exchanges between President Obama and his opponents in 2008 and 2012, each time making nearly a billion media impressions. “This cycle, we’d like to see one on national television,” said the group’s chair, science writer Shawn Otto. ”
As noted above, you can submit questions to Science debate, and you can support the effort in other ways as wall (like, for example, giving them money!).
Others who are joining the call for a science debate are talking about this commercial:
DeSmogBlog: Presidential Debates Ignore Climate Change, So Children Are Demanding Answers
EcoWatch: Kids Demand Presidential Candidates Address Climate Change
Yale’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Candidates Should not Avoid Science Debate
PZ Myers at Pharyngula: Do we want our politicians to address science issues? (and here at Scienceblogs)
Eli Rabett at Rabett Run: Questions, Bunnies Got Questions
Media Matters has this writeup.