Sure enough, Bush did the “science” thing last night. I’ve already preemptively explained why he’s not a credible messenger on this topic; so has DarkSyde (and I’m sure many others on the blogs). Still, let’s parse the president’s message a bit more:
First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America’s most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology and supercomputing and alternative energy sources. Second, I propose to make permanent the research and development tax credit to encourage bolder private-sector initiative in technology. With more research in both the public and private sectors, we will improve our quality of life and ensure that America will lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come.
Third, we need to encourage children to take more math and science and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations. We’ve made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country. Tonight I propose to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead Advanced Placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms and give early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good high-wage jobs. If we ensure that America’s children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.
All of this will be wonderful (if truly executed as promised). But Bush cannot get around two points that do severe damage to his message, and his credibility, on this subject.
First, Bush himself has severely assaulted American scientific education by endorsing the teaching of “intelligent design” in classrooms. Having more science teachers would be great, but we can’t have a president telling them to teach non-science or even anti-science, or to undermine basic instruction in biology. That kinda ruins the whole thing, you know?
Second: The Korean scandal shows that the U.S. is not as far behind in the stem cell field as previously suspected. Nevertheless, Bush’s policy has clearly restrained research and thus global competitiveness in this field. Once again: It’s hard to be the “competitiveness” president when your actions have actually damaged scientific competitiveness–you know?
Let’s hope that other commentators join in holding Bush’s feet to the fire on this stuff. I’m generally cautious about using words like “hypocrisy,” but I think it’s probably warranted here.