Obama and Romney Answer Science Questions

A group called Science Debate — you can see the long and impressive list of participating organizations here — submitted a list of what they considered the most important science questions facing the nation to both Obama and to Romney.

The answers from both candidates are available here: The Top American Science Questions: 2012. To the great credit of the participating organizations, the question of evolution vs. creationism wasn’t included. We would have found the candidates’ answers interesting, but let’s face it — creationism is a mental health problem, and doesn’t belong on anyone’s list of important science questions.

There are 14 questions, and the answers are very long (especially Romney’s) so we can’t begin to summarize the information that’s available. You’ll really have to read it all for yourself and then give us your reactions. We’ll try to give you a few excerpts that we found interesting, but our efforts won’t tell you all you need to know. Nevertheless, here we go:

Question 1: Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?

Obama: I am committed to doubling funding for key research agencies to support scientists and entrepreneurs, so that we can preserve America’s place as the world leader in innovation, and strengthen U.S. leadership in the 21st century’s high-tech knowledge-based economy.

Romney: My plan for a stronger middle class will rebuild the American economy on the principles of free enterprise, hard work, and innovation. The promotion of innovation will begin on Day One, with efforts to simplify the corporate tax code, reform job retraining programs, reduce regulatory burdens, and protect American intellectual property around the world.

[…]

President Obama’s misguided attempts to play the role of venture capitalist, pick winners and losers, and spend tens of billions of dollars on politically-prioritized investments have been a disaster for the American taxpayer. Yet at the same time, we must never forget that the United States has moved forward in astonishing ways thanks to national investment in basic research and advanced technology. As president, I will focus government resources on research programs that advance the development of knowledge, and on technologies with widespread application and potential to serve as the foundation for private sector innovation and commercialization.

Question 2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

Obama: Climate change is the one of the biggest issues of this generation, and we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. Since taking office I have established historic standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles for the first time in history. My administration has made unprecedented investments in clean energy, proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants and reduced carbon emissions within the Federal Government.

Romney: I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.

[…]

I oppose steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away, all without actually addressing the underlying problem. Economic growth and technological innovation, not economy-suppressing regulation, is the key to environmental protection in the long run.

[…]

I support robust government funding for research on efficient, low-emissions technologies that will maintain American leadership in emerging industries. And I believe the federal government must significantly streamline the regulatory framework for the deployment of new energy technologies, including a new wave of investment in nuclear power.

Question 3. Research and the Future. Federally funded research has helped to produce America’s major postwar economies and to ensure our national security, but today the UK, Singapore, China, and Korea are making competitive investments in research. Given that the next Congress will face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in research in your upcoming budgets?

Obama: I strongly support investments in research and development that help spur America innovation and proposed a goal that, as a country, we invest more than 3 percent of our GDP in public and private research and development — exceeding the level achieved at the height of the space race.

Romney: As I noted above, I am a strong supporter of federally funded research, and continued funding would be a top priority in my budget. The answer to spending constraints is not to cut back on crucial investments in America’s future, but rather to spend money more wisely. For instance, President Obama spent $90 billion in stimulus dollars in a failed attempt to promote his green energy agenda. That same spending could have funded the nation’s energy research programs at the level recommended in a recent Harvard University study for nearly twenty years.

Question 12. Space. The United States is currently in a major discussion over our national goals in space. What should America’s space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?

Obama: We’re fortunate to be part of a society that can reach beyond our planet and explore frontiers that were only imagined by our ancestors. I am committed to protecting these critical investments in science and technology and pursuing an ambitious new direction for NASA that lays the groundwork for a sustainable program of exploration and innovation.

Romney: The mission of the U.S. space program is to spur innovation through exploration of the heavens, inspire future generations, and protect our citizens and allies.

[…]

America has enjoyed a half-century of leadership in space, but now that leadership is eroding despite the hard work of American industry and government personnel. The current purpose and goals of the American space program are difficult to determine. With clear, decisive, and steadfast leadership, space can once again be an engine of technology and commerce.

[…]

Rebuilding NASA, restoring U.S. leadership, and creating new opportunities for space commerce will be hard work, but I will strive to rebuild an institution worthy of our aspirations and capable once again leading the world toward new frontiers.

That’s all we can do here. We’ve given you more from Romney’s answers because, as we said, they were longer. Also, it’s because we already have an idea of Obama’s leadership, so we were more interested in Romney’s thinking. Anyway, it’s all there at the links we provided, so now you’re on your own.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Obama and Romney Answer Science Questions

  1. Overall I found the answers rather disappointing.
    Most of them were non-answers and they were basically saying the same thing. However, as you read between the lines it appears that Oboma is promoting more research than Romney is.

    However, overall talk is cheap.

  2. I liked Curm’s mental health problem analogy when he briefly touched on creationism. That statement boils things down to their essence without all the explanatory verbage and attempts to argue with logic with the creationism world.

  3. Under that handy mental health problem category should be anyone who still harbors insane doubts about human caused climate change.

  4. Romney can’t say that he thinks humans are responsible for the
    rapid increase in global warming. Too many of his ignorant base
    state out loud their anti science views on it. So, he, like every other
    issue, is not revealing or has no opinion that he wants to state at
    this time. How often have we heard him say that he will look into
    this or that AFTER he is elected.

    Of course, his kowtowing to the Israelis would likely lead us into
    another war….if you can believe his words.

    I didn’t think Romney would stoop so low as he did recently
    appearing with Pat “the hemorrhoid healer and hurricane
    course changing” Robertson. You just can’t get more desperate
    than that. He must be regretting not choosing Palin as a running
    mate.

  5. A couple of things struck me.

    For one, Romney would once again reset NASA’s mission, which would create even more uncertainty and delays to NASA’s current programs. He has no vision for the space program today, instead he stated: “I will bring together all the stakeholders – from NASA and other civil agencies, from the full range of national security institutions, from our leading universities, and from commercial enterprises – to set goals, identify missions, and define the pathway forward.” So, it would be back to the drawing board. More confusion, more studies, more delays. Worst of all, he also stated: “A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding…” Yes, Mr. Romney, it does. Lack of funding is what cratered the previous return-to-the moon program, lack of funding required canceling the Shuttle program to enable other programs, lack of funding caused NASA to redesign and descope the Space Station delaying it’s launch for years, and lack of funding may yet kill the James Webb space telescope. In short, the problem with NASA is that we want it to do more than we are willing to pay for. Obama, for all the flack he received for canceling the moon program, at least attempted to rationalize NASA’s goals to its available budget. If we can grow commercial space into a healthy industry, that will help NASA direct more of it’s budget into more interesting programs, but it will still take a significant increase in budget for NASA to take on really inspiring programs with the kind of urgency that made it famous in the sixties.

    The other thing that struck me was Romney’s confusing answer on climate change. Whether he believes in the science or not, he evidently doesn’t think that it is a very urgent problem. He states: “Ultimately, the science is an input to the public policy decision; it does not dictate a particular policy response.” This is true, but in Romney’s context I suspect he means – science can be ignored if it might suggest doing anything that would adversely affect American oil and coal companies. He is still for continuing our investment in modern nuclear power, which is good, but on the other hand he makes no statement whatsoever about renewable energy programs. Finally, he is clearly against regulating emissions if they would impose any cost on an industry, or even using market forces to reduce carbon emissions through a cap and trade program.

    Overall it’s an interesting document, and reflects the rather guarded views of the candidates during the election. They took different approaches – Obama simply responded to the questions and included references to applicable actions taken by his administration, while Romney was in full attack mode. It would be interesting to fact check some of his wilder assertions, but it’s not important enough to spend the time.

  6. Romney doesn’t say much of any substance, but he clearly relies on attacking the President on any and all positions in his attempt to make himself look better.

  7. Ed says: “A couple of things struck me.”

    One thing struck me. Although it’s easy to nit-pick their answers or focus on one specific item, science will probably survive either of those guys, so I think it’s unnecessary to be a one-issue voter on the subject of science. There’s lots of things to worry about, but this time around, science isn’t one of them.

  8. SC: “There’s lots of things to worry about, but this time around, science isn’t one of them.”

    I concur. However, I think Romney has a better chance of getting science funding through Congress than Obama if the Republicans hang on to their majority in the House.

    Even if Obama had better ideas on science, if he can’t get them through the House, what good are they?

  9. Romney’s answer for Question 3 was pretty good

  10. The Curmudgeon notes:

    …science will probably survive either of those guys…

    Agreed.

    But would also like to add (in my Euro-weenie mode), that the United States is not the sole custodian of Science. Granted, I have some European colleagues who (taking a short-term view) would be delighted if the American powerhouse of innovation were to be crippled by a triumphant Religious Right in the US, but in truth, such a disaster would harm us all.

    But we would soldier on without you :-)

  11. Mitt Romney: “I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.”

    My recent reply on the Panda’s Thumb:

    Gov. Romney, you admit not being a scientist, yet what you say, while technically correct, is stated in a way that would be disapproved by the great majority of scientists working in relevant fields – the very ones who have the most to gain by finding new explanations, or finding data that successfully (by virtue of independent verification) challenge conventional wisdom. Why did you not seek their help in phrasing it properly?

    Certainly those scientists have disagreements. That is trivially true, and is common in every field in science. By failing to mention that, on this issue*, the degree of differences among scientists is very minor compared to that among those who don’t understand the science (or pretend not to), you are reinforcing the common misconception that those who refuse to do the work, and spread agenda-driven propaganda instead, are equally qualified to contribute to the “debate.” By failing to mention that scientists welcome the opportunity to publicly debate their differences, you are reinforcing the common misconception that they are either unwilling or discouraged to do so.

    * You are probably aware that this issue is often coupled with that of biological evolution. On that issue the disparity in both degree, and type of disagreements among practicing scientists is radically different than what the propaganda peddlers pretend that they are. Because these issues are typically coupled, you are indirectly allowing even more serious misconceptions to persist.

  12. “We would have found the candidates’ answers interesting, but let’s face it — creationism is a mental health problem, and doesn’t belong on anyone’s list of important science questions.”

    I understand that the science organizations did not want to dignify creationism by mentioning it, but knowing whether a candidate opposes evolution, or even entertains opinions about a “controversy” and supposedly alternative theories is enough to convince me of his/her intellectual deficiency – or mental health problem as Curms suggests – thereby unfitness for office. Basically, the same goes for my support and patronage of any public official, or member of the professions such as teacher, dentist, etc., so I wish creationists/IDers would be more upfront about their beliefs which would make the process of elimination far simpler.

  13. Donna: “I wish creationists/IDers would be more upfront about their beliefs…”

    Unfortunately 99+% of those they fool, and ~90% of their critics who know better, don’t realize that they are very up front about their beliefs. Committed anti-evolution activists think that the only way to save the world from moral decline is to keep the “masses” believing fairy tales that even most major religions no longer take literally.

    As to whether they personally believe any of those mutually-contradictory, easily falsified fairy tales, a huge clue is their approach to simple “what happened when” questions about their particular alternative to evolution. If they truly think that the evidence supports one, they’ll talk incessantly about it, and have no need to drag in long-refuted “weaknesses” of evolution. As you know, almost no trained activist has done that in decades.

    The next possibility is that they believe one of those stories “on faith, in spite of lack of evidence.” Then, as many still do, they’ll state which one they prefer, but not elaborate. Most often, nowadays, they’ll evade even the most basic questions about their “theory,” and do anything to change the subject back to their paranoid charge that 99+% of scientists are conspiring to replace God with Hitler. They may never state it in those words of course, but that’s their message.