Presidential Candidates Respond to Science Questions

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Publication date: 
7 September 2012


The views of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on fourteen major scientific issues were released this week by Science Debate 2012. The responses, in their own words, provide the candidates’ views on innovation policy, climate change, research funding, education, energy, space, critical natural resources, biosecurity, food, fresh water, the Internet, ocean health, vaccination and public health, and the utilization of science in formulation of public policy.

Described as “a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a growing number of scientists and other concerned citizens,” Science Debate, Inc. is a nonprofit organization started in the United States in November 2007. Matthew Chapman is President of Science Debate, Inc. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and former Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) are co-chairs. Others serving on the steering committee are Norm Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin; Ira Flatow of National Public Radio; Deborah Wince-Smith of the Council on Competitiveness; and prominent academic, corporate, association, and scientific media figures. Scientific American is the Media Partner. The U.S. National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and The Council on Competitiveness are organizational cosponsors.

The physics community has provided significant support to this effort. Eleven physicists who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, and two astronomers who received the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy are listed as “supporting the call,” as well as the American Institute of Physics and three of its Member Societies: the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Physical Society. In all, more than 40,000 individuals and 200 universities and scientific organizations have donated to this effort.

Science Debate explains:

We have noticed that science and technology lie at the center of a very large number of the policy issues facing our nation and the world - issues that profoundly affect our national and economic security as science and technology continue to transform our lives. No matter one's political stripe, these issues pose important pragmatic policy challenges - challenges that are too important and too impactful on people's lives to be left unaddressed.

We believe these scientific and technological policy challenges can bring out the best in the entrepreneurial American spirit. America can be a leader in finding cures for our worst diseases, inventing the best alternative energy sources, enjoying the most pristine and biologically wealthy environment, and graduating the most scientifically literate children in the world - or we can cede these economic and humanitarian benefits to other countries.

Leadership is about articulating a vision for the future and making it happen. Will America lead, or will it step aside and be swept along as others take the reins?

This is the second time that presidential candidates have responded to a series of questions on science and technology. In 2008 the candidates were asked, but refused, to participate in what was to be a nationally broadcast debate on PBS. Written responses were submitted. Obama and Romney have not indicated if they will accept an invitation to participate in a televised debate focusing on scientific issues.

The American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society participated in the development of the questions that were submitted to the candidates. These questions, and the candidates’ responses, can be viewed here.

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