Political Science

Ok, a sidestep into politics for a short, but important moment.

With all that’s going on with all the presidential debates and press conferences and other appearances, has anything struck you as a major topic (or class of topics) that is simply missing from the national discussion? A topic that affects our lives in so many ways, and helps shape our futures in a most profound manner?

I’m thinking of science. I’m thinking of it in all the forms in which it intersects with politics – where decisions made by the president involve policy directly related to science (climate change and stem cell research are two of the most obvious), scientific research (both basic and applied), safety and security issues (consider the EPA, Katrina and other natural disasters), resources (the ongoing and coming battles about water sources, for example, pollution and air quality go here too, as well as under other headings), and energy (well, take your pick of example issues there). There’s also science education, on which there ought to be coherent effort for many reasons too (including the pragmatic one of long term competitiveness of the USA). Ironically, the lack of science education helps reinforce the lack of discussion of these issues. Given the dismal state of basic science literacy, right now the populace just leaves the setting of policy and the making of decisions about so much of the above to be made by others – most often behind closed doors, and by people who do not have our best interests in mind. The electorate as a whole doesn’t require our politicians to have much in the way of independent thoughts about these matters (as hugely important as they are) since it mostly doesn’t have independent thoughts about them itself.

Don’t you want to know what presidential candidates think about these matters? Should they not be evaluated on their promises and positions on these matters as much as any of the other issues currently being discussed?

So what to do? Well, my friends Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney of the blog The Intersection* have been working on this. They’ve compiled an impressive list of scientists, science writers, editors, and others sympathetic to the issue that have joined their voices under the banner “Sciencedebate 2008”. They’re basically calling for a debate (or debates) on science as we approach the 2008 Presidential election. I’d like to point you to the list – it’s here.

Chris and Sheril also asked a number of bloggers whether they’d like to add their voices to the call (as I am doing now). The list of voices may be found here. Thanks for leading on this, Chris and Sheril!

So that’s enough from me. What do you think?



*Both Sheril and Chris write a lot about the intersection of science and public policy over at The Intersection. I recommend their blog. Chris had an interesting article in Seed not so long ago expressing his thoughts on science policy and the presidential office. It is here.

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7 Responses to Political Science

  1. spyder says:

    What do you think?
    Do we need a multi-candidate debate focused on science issues?? Absofreakinglutely!!!! I believe Gore said something along those lines this morning in his speech to the Nobel ceremony attendees, suggesting that so far none of the debates (GOP nor Democratic) have had serious questions asked about climate change policies.

    Instead we have Oprah reprising MLK’s dream for Obama, a wing and a prayer; Guiliani suggesting that it was perfectly reasonable to ask the Secret Service to protect a President’s mistress to the same degree and extent as the President’s wife; Romney saying that there is (or maybe not) a need to ignore Article VI of the US Constitution; Hillary hiding in CA; and so forth. Where is our real future being discussed??? Then again, there was that Rasmussen poll over the weekend that showed that only 18% of US citizens thought that the NIE on Iran was accurate in stating the same thing that the world’s nuclear scientists have been saying for the last four years. I shudder to think that eight out of ten of my fellow citizens could be stupid????

  2. Excellent. I’m not clear though, on whether they want the signatories to be professional scientists or whether interested individuals are encouraged to sign too? I couldn’t find where to view a list of individuals, so wasn’t sure if this was because they haven’t signed yet or because they aren’t supposed to.

    But yes, this is definitely an important area of debate.


  3. Yvette says:

    Been hearing Professor Krauss talk about this all last week. He wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal on this very issue that appeared last Thursday, which I’d link to but I think you need a subscription to read.

    Hope it happens though as it would definitely be a refreshing sight to see.

  4. Thanks for pointing to the The Intersection blog. Science, O’ Science how art thou not discussed in these Presidential debates and interviews? People are so obsessed in learning about the nitty-gritty of the personal lives of the candidates that the real issues such as the economy, weak dollar, health insurance, social security and of course science are getting far less talk-time.

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