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.
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