Science Questions for Presidential Candidates

We found this headline at EurekAlert, the online news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Over 50 leading American nonpartisan organizations call on presidential candidates to address major issues in science, engineering, technology, health and the environment. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

A blue-ribbon coalition of fifty-six leading U.S. nonpartisan organizations, representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers, are calling on U.S. Presidential candidates to address a set of twenty major issues in science, engineering, technology, health and the environment, and encouraging journalists and voters to press the candidates on them during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election season.

“Fascinating,” as Spock would say. We don’t recall anything remotely like this before. The article then says:

“Taken collectively, these twenty issues have at least as profound an impact on voters’ lives as those more frequently covered by journalists, including candidates’ views on economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values,” said ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto, organizer of the effort. A 2015 national poll commissioned by ScienceDebate.org and Research!America revealed that a large majority of Americans (87%) say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.

That’s a nice statistic, but we already know that a large percentage of Americans are hopelessly uninformed about science, so the devil is in the details. Let’s read on:

The list of organizations is a who’s who of the American science enterprise.

Later in the article they list the organizations. It’s an impressive group. We continue:

“By engaging the candidates in a debate focusing on topics in science, engineering, technology, and innovation,” said Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences. “it would be an opportunity for all voters to gauge how the candidates would use sound technical information in their future decision making.”

Then they provide a link to where the 20 questions can be viewed: 2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions. We looked it over. Evolution and creationism are nowhere on the list. That’s understandable, because there’s nothing in the President’s constitutional duties that specifically depends on them. Nevertheless, knowing a candidate’s views on those topics will inform us as to whether he (or she) is an idiot.

Here are a few of the questions. Some seem to refer, at least indirectly, to The Controversy between evolution and creationism. Others interest your Curmudgeon because the customary party split seen on creationism often goes into reverse on those topics. In that context we’re thinking of nuclear power and space exploration. The questions that seem most relevant to this blog are:

1. Innovation: Science and engineering have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII. But some reports question America’s continued leadership in these areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of innovation?

2. Research: Many scientific advances require long-term investment to fund research over a period of longer than the two, four, or six year terms that govern political cycles. In the current climate of budgetary constraints, what are your science and engineering research priorities and how will you balance short-term versus long-term funding?

8. Education: American students have fallen in many international rankings of science and math performance, and the public in general is being faced with an expanding array of major policy challenges that are heavily influenced by complex science. How would your administration work to ensure all students including women and minorities are prepared to address 21st century challenges and, further, that the public has an adequate level of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] literacy in an age dominated by complex science and technology?

11. Nuclear Power: Nuclear power can meet electricity demand without producing greenhouse gases, but it raises national security and environmental concerns. What is your plan for the use, expansion, or phasing out of nuclear power, and what steps will you take to monitor, manage and secure nuclear materials over their life cycle?

16. Space: There is a political debate over America’s national approach to space exploration and use. What should America’s national goals be for space exploration and earth observation from space, and what steps would your administration take to achieve them?

20. Scientific Integrity: Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy, but that is predicated on the integrity of that evidence and of the scientific process used to produce it, which must be both transparent and free from political bias and pressure. How will you foster a culture of scientific transparency and accountability in government, while protecting scientists and federal agencies from political interference in their work?

Will the candidates make themselves available to being asked about these issues? They should. We’ll soon find out.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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3 responses to “Science Questions for Presidential Candidates

  1. And what fraction of the voting public cares a rap?
    For most people, science and math mean those awful classes in high school. When they finished their final exam they said, “Thank God I’ll never have to hear about that ever again.”

  2. Excellent questions. They have put a lot of effort in making them free of bias.

  3. I notice that “the customary party split” on issues related to the creation-evolution controversy “goes into reverse” preferentially on issues where there are big bucks and/or big sticks to be made.