I was disappointed, but not really surprised, when three Republican presidential candidates — Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback (who has since dropped out) — declared that they do not “believe in” the theory of evolution (in my opinion, the correct phrasing should have been “do you accept the theory of evolution?” rather than using the misleading and incorrect phrase believe in, which implies blind faith rather than scientifically tested theory).
But, by admitting to this deficit in their perception of reality and their unwillingness to learn, these three presidential candidates aligned themselves with the majority of Americans. Because the sad fact is that most Americans still believe in creationism according to recent polls, and even more amazingly, 54 percent of Americans surveyed said they don’t care if a presidential candidate doesn’t accept the theory of evolution, according to a June USA Today Gallup Poll. More worryingly, 70 percent of those surveyed also said that a candidate’s view on evolution just wasn’t relevant.
Not relevant?!? Who are they trying to kid? Regardless of what the presidential candidates, or even the average American, believes, science and technology are at the very core of nearly every public policy decision made in this country today; decisions that include nearly everything ranging from allocation of funds for military research and development to H5N1 “bird flu” pandemic responses and preparations, from embryonic stem cell research, health care funding and research, to global warming policies, alternative fuel research and development, fisheries management, and endangered species policies.
In short, while our elected officials have been distracted with petty bickering over non-issues such as the Terri Schiavo fiasco and the teaching of evolution in public schools, they have been waving their hands helplessly in the face of Hurricane Katrina, and the suffering of many Americans has been needlessly prolonged and ignored.
But scientists, corporate CEOs and even some politicians on both sides of the political divide have noticed this intellectual stagnation in public policies. To begin to remedy this situation, they have united to call for a debate between the presidential candidates that specifically addresses their proposed public policies as they relate to science and technology, an effort referred to as ScienceDebate2008. This bipartisan group includes 11 Nobel Laureates, the director of policy for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Bill Nye the Science Guy, and the editor of Scientific American, as well as the retired CEO of Lockheed Martin, and even Minnesota Republican congressman Jim Ramstad and Richard Garwin, who served on the White House’s Science Advisory Committee under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
ScienceDebate2008 is firmly rooted in the desire to deal proactively with the widespread concern that the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in science and technology education, and that a scientifically illiterate president will damage the United States’ competitive advantage in the global economy. Thus, inspired by ScienceDebate2008, many Democratic presidential candidates have released their proposed science policies, but unfortunately, Republican presidential candidates have remained unresponsive.
It is hoped that, by placing each candidate’s science and technology policies squarely into the public consciousness, the average American will realize that not “believing in” evolution unacceptable, that it constitutes intellectual dishonesty that is tantamount to not “believing in” gravity — especially because no rational creationist would dare to step off the observation deck of the Empire State Building to demonstrate those assertions.