In the debates that took place during the Republican primaries earlier this year, some of the candidates for President proudly proclaimed that they did not believe in evolution. Many of us in the science world were aghast. Luckily, none of those candidates made it very far in the race, but it still raised an important issue: politicians of all stripes will pander to almost any group of people on almost any topic, but science is not one of them. With this in mind, Lawrence Krauss, a Case Western University professor of astrophysics, decided to try to do something about it. He joined with screenwriter/directer Matthew Chapman, journalist and author of The Republican War on Science Chris Mooney, and screenwriter Shawn Lawrence Otto to form a non-profit organization called Science Debate 2008. The primary purpose of this organization is to “elevate the visibility of science in the Presidential race,” with the hope of organizing science-oriented debates between candidates of both parties. More than 38,000 scientists, engineers, and other concerned Americans signed on and supported Science Debate 2008, including nearly every major American science organization, dozens of Nobel laureates, elected officials and business leaders, and the presidents of over 100 major American universities. More than 3400 questions were submitted for candidates to answer about science and the future of America.
Well, those debates never materialized, but Science Debate 2008 would not be defeated. Instead, they narrowed the list of 3400 questions down to the top 14 questions, addressing a broad range of topics including climate change, energy, health care, research, science education and American innovation. The questions were submitted to the candidates and, finally, the candidates decided these topics were important enough to address specifically.
The responses of both Barack Obama and John McCain are found here, allowing side-by-side comparison. Luckily, at least Obama and McCain both say they believe in evolution, although McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, may not.
Regardless of your political leanings, the stance of each candidate on these issues cannot be discounted. These issues affect our everyday lives. More importantly, many of these issues affect the overall health of not only our species, but our planet as a whole. America currently leads the world in science and technology, but all too often the politicians who lead the country and shape our interactions with the world prove themselves to be not only uneducated and unconcerned with science, but are openly hostile toward science and technology. The views of politicians, especially the President, are of particular importance because they shape science policy, and their decisions affect the entire world.
Because of this, we should all strive to elect a President who is scientifically literate, or at least scientifically aware. The worst possible move would be to elect someone who continues the tradition set forth by the current administration, which has been openly hostile toward science by severely restricting funding and scientific endeavor, and has also manipulated and suppressed science in order to achieve their political agenda. We at FundScience are not here to try to change your political views, but we strongly urge you to carefully read both Obama’s and McCain’s responses to these very important science questions. It is unlikely that science topics will swing many votes, but that does not discount their importance. Science Debate 2008 and other organizations, including FundScience, seek to raise awareness of science and science-related issues, and hope to gradually change the current culture that ignores or rejects the very innovation that drives this country, and the research that impacts our lives more than most people realize.