The Corpus Callosum

Science Debate Questions

There is a movement afoot to develop a framework for a href="http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2007/12/lets_get_the_presidential_cand.php">Presidential
candidate debate on science.  Bora has been
proposing href="http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2007/12/science_debate_2008_my_questio.php">questions
that would have the candidates explain..

In what way, if any, would you change the current
federal framework of implementing science-related policy?

One issue here is this: would it be best to ask broad questions,
detailed questions, or a mix of the two?

Or would it be better to conceptualize a spectrum, ranging from general
to specific, and try to formulate questions that fall in the middle of
the spectrum?

This is a matter of great interest to me.  As it happens, a
large
part of what I do for a living is to ask people questions.  If
I
don’t ask the right questions, I can’t do my job properly.



I think that the questions should be formulated to help us learn three
things about the candidates: how thoughtful are they regarding science
policy?  How well do they understand science policy?
 What
policies are they likely to institute?

One good indication of how thoughtful a person is, is to ask a broad
question and see how much detail they include in the answer.  

A
good way to see how well someone understands a subject is to see how
readily they are able to address a subject at different levels of
abstraction.  Can they see both the big picture and
the critical details?  Can they assess a question and figure
out
how to formulate an answer at the level of abstraction that will
provide the most informative answer?

Perhaps the most difficult questions to phrase well, are those
pertaining to science policy.  What is most desirable with
these questions is to formulate them in such a way that you do not end
up with predicable, vacuous answers.  If all the Democratic
candidates answer one way, all more or less identical; and all the
Republicans answer a different way, but all the same as each other,
then the question has not accomplished anything.  

I suspect that the only way to handle that would be to select just a
couple of specific policy questions, with follow-up questions designed
to elicit distinctions between the candidates.