Science Debate

So far in the debates and presidential campaign we’ve learned that many of the Republican candidates do not accept established science in areas such as evolution and climate change. Even among the politicians who do not reject science we have not heard very many details as to how their views on these and other scientific issues will shape public policy. A group of almost sixty scientists have started a campaign to urge the candidates to participate in a science debate. More information is at the ScienceDebate2008 web site and the group’s press release follows:

NEW YORK – Eleven Nobel laureates, two dozen other eminent scientists, and the leaders of many of America’s pre-eminent scientific organizations and universities have joined a coalition of business leaders, writers, and elected officials of both major political parties in a call for a science-based presidential debate in 2008.

The group, which calls itself ScienceDebate2008, says such a debate is critical. “Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth, we view this as a critical part of our presidential selection process,” the group said in a prepared announcement.

It just may be an idea whose time has come, says Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science magazine. “Climate change, the space station, and stem cells are just a few of the many scientific issues that have become central in national policy. It’s about time we hear from the candidates on science issues.”

“When you think about it, nearly every major challenge the next President will face has a science or technological component,” said Lawrence M. Krauss, an astrophysicist at Case Western Reserve University and a member of the ScienceDebate2008 steering committee. “We owe it to the next generation to address these challenges responsibly.”

The group’s impressive signatory list is at

The debate location and venue have not yet been chosen. The group is in talks with several major organizations, said Matthew Chapman, a writer and spokesman for the group’s steering committee, and he says at least one major presidential campaign has already indicated support for the idea. “The strangest thing about this debate is that it hasn’t already happened. It is so clearly essential.”

John Rennie, Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American, is also a member of the steering committee. “Matters of science and technology underpin every important issue affecting the future of the United States,” said Rennie. “It’s crucial for the nation’s welfare that our next president be someone with an understanding of vital science, a willingness to listen to scientific counsel, and a capacity for solid, critical thinking. A debate would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities on these issues.”

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  1. 1
    Ryan says:

    I hope it actually happens. This is one debate I would definitely watch, and would probably have a significant influence on my support. Any opinions on who would/would not do well other than the obvious “F” grade for the Huckster?

    Great blog by the way. My new favorite on politics.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    Huckabee would get the F for raising his hand to the question on those who don’t believe in evolution at the earlier GOP debate. Only Brownback and Tancredo also raised their hands, with Brownback out of the race.

    The Republican candidates are generally sounding much more sane on global warming than the conservative pundits and bloggers so they escape F’s here (even if they don’t earn A’s).

    Their positions on funding stem cell research would probably lead to some more F’s among the Republican candidates.

    Ron Paul gets an F for supporting federal legislation to negate state laws which differentiate between a zygote and fully developed human. I’m sure many of the other Republican candidates would also go along with this.

    I’d spare them an F but give a D to anyone who supported the ban on “partial birth” abortions who consider this to be a meaningful medical term. (The grade is based upon the science as opposed to my objection to the policy). However I would give an F to Ron Paul on this one also only because someone trained in OB should really know better than to accept legislation with a bogus term like “partial birth abortions.”

  3. 3
    Ryan says:

    While I agree with you on all those points, I would hope that a real science debate would focus less on their (for the most part already known) stance on political questions that relate to science like stem cells, and abortions and more on questions relevant to a lareger majority of working scientists. Questions about NASA, NSF, and NIH funding in their budgets, how they would improve science teaching in k-12, some questions on “political” issues like global warming and evolution just to see if they accept the scientific consensus, and maybe even some like these to test basic reasoning skills.

    Obama seems like he could do well in a science debate. Maybe it’s just because I agree with most of his ideas, but he seems to have better reasoning skills than many of the others.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Questions such as those about budgets for science-related issues should also be included. I limited my response on grading to matters of science fact as it is possible there to give someone an F for denying established science. It would be harder to flunk someone based upon relative amounts of funding they would support. I guess you would also give Ron Paul an F here since he’d deny all funding, claiming the federal government shouldn’t be involved.

    I suspect Obama would win. If we grade Democratic candidates on their past, Obama should get some credit for bringing string theory into a law school paper which came up in a post on him a while ago. I’d add John Edwards to those deserving F’s based upon some of the junk science he used to win malpractice cases.

  5. 5
    Ryan says:

    String theory in a law school paper, huh. I wonder if he got an A.

    Yeah, that’s a big down side to Paul for me. There are some government agencies that I think are necessary. I would put NASA, the NSF, the NIH, etc. in that category.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    Unfortunately Paul completely equates freedom with lack of government agencies. It’s sort of like being free on a desert island. Sure you’re free, but there are qualities of life which are lacking.

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