Science Debate 08?

Posted by Katherine | May 8, 2008 – 3:36 pm
Periodic table in apartment windows
See the periodic table? [Mike Mertz / Flickr]

A group of scientists, educators, and business leaders is calling for Science Debate 2008, and thousands of people have signed on in support. The goal here is to convince the 08 candidates to debate big scientific issues — issues that affect America’s national and economic security.

Larissa Zhou is on BallotVox’s science beat and found the first three of these posts.

Twenty-four-year-old Natty from NYC is somewhat involved in the push for SD08, and he’s frustrated by the pessimists who don’t believe it will happen:

The common excuse for “probably won’t happen” seems to be that politicians won’t want to look scientifically ignorant when asked questions about science. Well, the entire purpose of the proposal seems to be missed. Nobody’s asking the candidates to count electrons or describe the properties of black holes. We don’t expect them to tell us the solubility of various chemicals or to describe how the endocrine system functions. Admittedly, I can’t answer those questions and, embarrassing as that might be for me, those aren’t the important questions to ask a presidential candidate. What does need to be asked however is whether they will take a serious position on climate change, whether they will fund stem cell research, and what, ultimately, their administration would do to ensure that America remains at the forefront of science well into the future.

Natty probably wouldn’t be happy with Chicagoan ZapperZ’s cynicism:

While I think this is very important debate not just in terms of the issues, but in terms of a way we can judge how these candidates arrive at what they believe to be a valid opinion, I am not that optimistic that they will agree to this. Why? Because unlike most of the other debates, one actually need to have some knowledge of facts in this debate to be able to form an opinion. If you look closely at all the other debates, one can almost make things up as one goes along at answering the questions or discussing the issues. In those debates, style mattered more than substance. In a Science Debate, substance will take precedent over style. And for most politicians, that is very difficult to do.

John Marshall from Seattle — a “one-hundred percent natural, robust blend of cowboy, punk, and classical natural philosopher” — comments on Clinton and Obama staffers’ openness to SD08 (they were asked about it at a February scientific meeting in Boston):

Clinton’s guy was quite noncommittal and you could tell he was trying to find a way to say “In your dreams, nerds” without losing any votes; I am unsurprised. Obama’s rep, however, was quite stoked about the prospect and said that they were seriously considering it. I mean, that’s hardly a pledge, but surely it’s a good sign.

Scientist and futurist David Brin argues this on behalf of SD08 (hat tip to Ann Raber):

How absurd it is for an advanced nation, a purported leader of civilization, to choose new leaders without ever debating issues of technology and science. […]

America did better, as a nation, when it thought of itself as a nation of science. When it took pride in its leadership in forward thinking. When it considered the quest something very close to sacred.

If you agree with Brin and want to join the SD08 crowd, here’s a place to start.


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