Tag Archives: Science Debate

The Sciencedebate.org Presidential Debates and Questions

Sciencedebate.org has managed a seemingly impossible task. They developed 20 distinct (but often interrelated) questions about science policy, based on vast amounts of public input, and then got all four presidential candidates to address them. Congratulations to Sciencedebate.org. This is important, and I know that was not easy to do. The questions, and answers, are here.

Here are my reactions to the candidates responses for some of the questions.

1. Innovation. Science and engineering have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII. But some reports question America’s continued leadership in these areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of innovation?

Clinton acknowledges and outlines post World War II innovation and its payoffs. She links this innovation to education, and advocates for preschool and good K-12 in every zip code, which implies good schools regardless of socioeconomic status of the local school’s catchment. She seems to imply that one does both applied and basic research, because both pay of. She supports technology transfer.

Trump indicates that innovation is great. He makes the claim that innovation is a by product of free market systems, and claims that most innovation comes form entrepreneurs. He does support maintaining or raising taxes to fund science, engineering, and healthcare, in order to make Americans more prosperous.

Johnson insists that a robust economy precedes innovation. His primary policy recommendation to enhance scientific innovation is to reduce taxes, and calls for the government to step away from meddling with the true innovators, scientists, engineers, buisnes people, and hobbyists. He wants to dramtically reform the granting process, using as the exclusive means of determining grant worthiness the frequency of ideas in given areas at the grassroots level. So, he notes that even if it is apparent that we need research to stop a flu epidemic, if the majority of researchers want to address alcohol abuse then so be it.

He also intends to reform how universities hire and fund researchers, and the universities’ overhead system.

Stein claims that almost every part of her 2016 platform will cause positive effects in innovation. By reducing Pentagon spending, Stein will free up a lot of money for research and development, by transferring that money to millions of currently underemployed people, who will then innovate.

Clearly, Trump and Johnson want a mostly hands off policy, and neither shows much understanding of how research works. Also, Johnson claims he will do something a president can’t do (change the way universities handle overhead and grants).

Stein wishes to use a peace dividend, and that’s great. If we could reduce Pentagon spending and use that money for other stuff, I’m all for that. However, Stein did not appear to address the question of innovation specifically. Also, I’m not sure how transferring funds form the Pentagon to the masses produces the sort of outcome implied by this question.

Clinton demonstrates a nuanced and clear knowledge of the topic at hand, and pretty much wins this debate because of her support for both basic and applied research. First, she knows what they are, and recognizes these issues as, clearly, part of the question. Second, she recognizes the importance of basic research. I personally think we do too much technology transfer, an we’ve fetishized the role of spin-off businesses in research and development. I’d like to see us go back to a somewhat more, but modernized, system of funding public research, and letting the private sector benefit from it without stomping on the backs of private citizens with such chicanery as $600 epi pens. But that may be just me.

3. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?

Clinton gives, probably, the best answer because it is both aggressive and reasonably specific and doable. She wants us to get to 50% non carbon by the end of her first term, cut waste, and make larger scale transport more efficient, right away.

She does not address the supply side of energy sufficiently, and needs to do so. In a sense, Clinton is lucky in this debate, because the only other candidate who took the question seriously, Jill Stein, is not one of the major party candidates.

Trump put the term “Climate Change” in quotes. That is an insult to sciencedebate.org, the other candidates, and to humanity. His answer is right out of the Bjorn Lomborg playbook, and deserves no further consideration from me at this time.

Johnson “accepts that climate change is occurring” as though that mattered, or gave him points. Of course he accepts that climate change is occurring. Good for you, noticing that. But seriously, we are far beyond the point, especially in the context of a science debate, of taking positions of climate change being real, bigfoot not being real, evolution being real, aliens not being real, etc. So, no, please. Otherwise, Johnson notes that the things that cause climate change are all good things, and we don’t want to get rid of them. But, the market place will take care of them anyway. And, anyway, other countries are going to be producing more greenhouse gas pollution so we can’t do much about it. So, no, bad answer, about as bad as Trump’s

Stein has a long and detailed list of proposals, mostly funded by cutting the Pentagon budget. The strongest part of her policy is that we need to adopt a major, New Deal level (she calls it a Green New Deal) approach to climate change, and jsut get it done. She ties her climate change policies together with environmental justice programs. She proposes the Paris Treaty, by not by name, but we already have that. She supports organic farming and related efforts which may or may not help with climate change, but are sort of off topic.

A good number of her policies are bogus, a good number are good, many are diluted by great sounding link ups to social justice and democracy and stuff, which I like, but which make the policies not arguable at the national level. I like the fact that she put so much out there, even if I don’t agree with a lot of it.

Only Clinton and Stein took this question seriously. Clinton’s answer is good but not enough, Stein’s answer is weak in many areas but has potential.

7. Energy. Strategic management of the US energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?

The candidates’ answers on energy follow the same pattern as with climate change, so this can be brief.

Clinton: Details, doable, fairly aggressive, specific. Doesn’t sufficiently attack key supply side problems like pipelines and fracking.

Stein: Redirect funds and bring it to the people, and that should solve everything. On a more specific level, Stein addresses the supply side aggressively, ending subsidies, banning fracking, etc.

The other two guys: Something something something free market something somethings prosperity.

The same pattern emerges across most of the answers with all of the candidates. Stein is more idealistic, and plans to bring the resources to the masses (free school, everybody gets a job, etc) paid for by stealing form the rich (including the Pentagon) and redistributing to the poor. I fully agree with all of that. No one will win on that ticket. Stein also gave a pretty darn acceptable commentary on vaccines, by the way. The Facebook Memes about her being anti-vax are either overdone, or she’s moderated. Clinton provides the most professional answers, most doable, and consistently demonstrates that she knows a lot about the issues. I would hire her to be president, if that was a thing, but I’d sit down with her to adjust some details. But she would not need any training.

Tump and Johnson put most of their faith on the free market, entrepreneurs, and the mysteries magnetic properties of prosperity. I was not impressed by either of them.

What do you think? Read the questions and answers here.

A Call For A Presidential Debate On Science!

Several dozen nonpartisan organizations have joined together to ask for a Science Debate in the current campaign. The debate would address major issues in science, engineering, health and the environment

This is part of an effort that has been going on for several election cycles, with a certain degree of success.

More than 10 million scientists and engineers are represented by the organizations that have joined in this effort. They have provided a list of twenty major issues, and are encouraging journalists and voters to press the candidates on them during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election season.

“Taken collectively, these twenty issues have at least as profound an impact on voters’ lives as those more frequently covered by journalists, including candidates’ views on economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values,” said Shawn Otto, who has been a principle organizer of this project. (Shawn is also the author of this recent book, and he speaks with Mike Haubrich and me about science in politics in this interview.)

ScienceDebate.org recently commissioned a poll, in cooperation with Research!America, which showed that nearly 90% of Americans want the presidential and congressional candidates to have at least a basic understanding of policy-relevant science.

But what questions should be asked in a science debate? One of the counter arguments to such a debate, and this perception is a concern of the organizers, is that people will confuse “science debate” with “science quiz.” This is not about science, but how science and policy relate. So, the question, “what is the mechanism, at the atomic or molecular level, that makes some gasses greenhouse gasses, as opposed to others, which seem inert in this respect?” would NOT be good question. A more appropriate question might be, “What your best guess as to the most likely warming scenario, caused by human greenhouse gas pollution, over the next several decades; based on the best science, how much more global warming is going to happen during your administration, and what can we do about it?”

The ScienceDebate group has been asking for suggestions, from the general public, as to what issues and questions might form the core of a public discussion and organized debate. They then submitted the 20 most pressing questions to the Presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein, “along with an invitation to the candidates to answer them in writing and to discuss them on television,” said Otto. The results of this effort would then be widely distributed to guide journalists in their coverage, the general public in their voting, and perhaps even scientists in, well, adjusting their level of alarm!

Here’s a video Sciencedebate.org produced a while back with a slightly different spin on the question process. Personally, I think these kids should run the debate!

“Sometimes politicians think science issues are limited to simply things like the budget for NASA or NIH, and they fail to realize that a President’s attitude toward and decisions about science and research affect the public wellbeing, from the growth of our economy, to education, to public health. Voters should have a chance to know where the Presidential candidates stand,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “We want journalists and voters to ask these questions insistently of the candidates and their campaign staff.”

“By engaging the candidates in a debate focusing on topics in science, engineering, technology, and innovation,” said Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences. “it would be an opportunity for all voters to gauge how the candidates would use sound technical information in their future decision making."

“Informing citizens about the health of the nation and discussing pivotal science and policy issues such as mental health, chronic and emerging diseases and other public health threats, and vaccine research, are important to not only advance the national dialogue but also improve the country’s overall well-being,” said Victor J. Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine.

“Ahead lie many Grand Challenges for Engineering whose solution in this century have been posited as necessary for simply maintaining our quality of life,” said C. D. Mote, Jr., President of the National Academy of Engineering. “Unfortunately, these challenges stand unrecognized in the US Presidential debates."

Here are the questions

The candidate have been asked to provide responses by September 6.

Nonpartisan organizations participating in the effort include:

*American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association of Geographers
*American Chemical Society
American Fisheries Society
American Geophysical Union
*American Geosciences Institute
American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering
*American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Institute of Professional Geologists
American Rock Mechanics Association
American Society for Engineering Education
American Society of Agronomy
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
American Society of Mammalogists
Association for Women in Geosciences
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Automation Federation
*Biophysical Society
Botanical Society of America
Carnegie Institution for Science
Conservation Lands Foundation
Crop Science Society of America
Duke University
Ecological Society of America
Geological Society of America
International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Materials Research Society
NACE International, The Worldwide Corrosion Authority
*National Academy of Engineering
*National Academy of Medicine
*National Academy of Sciences
National Cave and Karst Research Institute
*National Center for Science Education
National Ground Water Association
Natural Science Collections Alliance
Northeastern University
Organization of Biological Field Stations
Paleontological Society
Scientific American magazine
Seismological Society of America
*Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
Society of Fire Protection Engineers
Society of Wetland Scientists
Society of Women Engineers
Soil Science Society of America
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Tufts University
*Union of Concerned Scientists
University City Science Center
*U.S. Council on Competitiveness
The Wildlife Society
World Endometriosis Research Foundation America

*Codeveloper of the questions
**Lead partner organization

From the mouths of babes: “We’re worried. Please debate science.”

I had previously mentioned the ScienceDebate ad with the kids asking for a science debate. Here is some local coverage on the story (the ad was made here in the Twin Cities) including an interview with one of the stars, Susanlyn Singroy. (I don’t agree with everything she said, but what the heck, she’s asking for a debate, and is up for it!)

Here is the coverage.

More about ScienceDebate.org here.

Turns out the "war on science" is a fabrication of the enemy!

We are at war. I do not refer to the war in Afghanastan (though that too) but rather to the war between the religious right, Republicans, the 1% and various anti-science forces on one hand and everybody else on the other. Indeed, it is standard political wisdom that Fundamentalist Christians and Republicans constitute an overlapping (and where not overlapping, highly cooperative) group standing in opposition to science.

Continue reading Turns out the "war on science" is a fabrication of the enemy!