The Intersection

So, finally, Sheril and I can tell you what we’ve been working on.

Let’s begin with some background: Nearly a month ago, I linked up with Matthew Chapman, the author, screenwriter, and great grandson of Charles Darwin. Chapman, I already knew, had a great idea that I wanted to write about in my forthcoming Seed column: A call for a debate among the current crop of presidential candidates solely devoted to issues in science and technology.

i-8808a1a70f2b4c43ecb40c250ca68be3-sciencedebate2008.jpg One thing led to another, and before long–along with many others, including Sheril (whose contribution has been invaluable) and Physics of Star Trek author Lawrence Krauss– I was helping Chapman organize a push to make this happen. First we got together a distinguished list of scientific luminaries, and later, we assembled a complementary blogger coalition, all in support of the following statement:

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we, the undersigned, call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Medicine and Health, and Science and Technology Policy.

And now, today, we’re going public!

We’re firmly convinced this is an idea whose time has come. The candidates need to talk science and technology policy on the campaign trail, and not in an occasional way, but in a debate format. Nobel Laureates, former presidential science advisers, leaders of industry and universities, and many others agree with us.

So we hope you’ll visit the ScienceDebate2008 website, browse the lists (scientists, bloggers), click the button pledging your support, head over and also join us on Facebook–and above all, spread the word!!!!


  1. #1 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    December 10, 2007

    So it begins.

  2. #2 Stefan Jones
    December 10, 2007

    That’s a damn good idea.

  3. #3 IrrationalPoint
    December 10, 2007

    Excellent idea. Do you want only “practising” scientists, or are other interested individuals, students, etc encouraged to sign as well?


  4. #4 Linda
    December 10, 2007

    After this Bush-scientific void for so many years, this is indeed welcome news, and I applaud you, Sheril, and everyone else concerned towards this effort. It’s a great idea, and I eagerly await hearing the discourse…

  5. #5 Drugmonkey
    December 10, 2007

    okay, spread the word, easy enough. great.

    now what? as far as I can tell the only realistic goal is to get some MSM traction and maybe hope for a couple of additional science questions in the usual debates. what is your blogger coalition going to do? is Kennedy going to editorialize in Science?

  6. #6 D
    December 10, 2007


    And LONG overdue.

  7. #7 Jon Winsor
    December 10, 2007

    Great idea!

  8. #8 Dan
    December 10, 2007

    Sheril, you’re beautiful.

    I’ve never visited before, but found your site throug Daily Kos. I’ll be back.

    Good luck to both of you.

  9. #9 Fred Bortz
    December 10, 2007

    Just signed up and posted an invitation to others at my blog (click my name).

    Great leadership, Chris and Sheril!

  10. #10 Mark P
    December 10, 2007

    I hate to be a wet blanket, but I doubt this will come to anything and, if it does, I doubt it will produce much of use. I think the result would be the transformation of science and science policy into sound bites. I commented further at Uncertain Principles.

  11. #11 David Miller
    December 10, 2007

    Somebody’s already dugg it:

    I’ve just promoted on Twitter and will blog about it sometime this week. Great idea!

  12. #12 Emily
    December 10, 2007

    Don’t let Mark be a wet blanket – I’ve posted a quick reply to his comment over at Uncertain Principles – basically pointing out that both Dems and Reps have mixed marks on science – both as an issue and in their own level of expertise (including a few on both sides of the aisle with advanced degrees in science and math) – and that science deserves just as much attention as health care, the war, and other issues that have all gotten quite a bit of air time during this extended election cycle.

  13. #13 Emily
    December 10, 2007

    On a follow-up…does anyone know of websites or other records that track the number of Congresspeople with educational or career training in science/tech?

  14. #14 kevin
    December 10, 2007

    it is an excellent idea that is long overdue. It is an idea that has been discussed before, but there is a world of difference between having an idea and making it happen. You deserve credit for taking it beyond the idea stage and working to make it happen.

  15. #15 Harry Abernathy
    December 10, 2007

    I applaud everyone’s effort. For this debate in particular, I believe candidates should have to speak for longer than the traditional 60, 90, or 120 seconds. By pushing the candidates beyond their soundbites and canned responses, the audience will get true glimpses of a candidate’s knowledge, values, and thought processes as the candidate is forced to reveal their knowledge of a subject and their ability to offer up evidence to support their stand.

    Also, there has already been at least one debate on solely environmental issues for the democratic candidates. Edwards, Clinton, and Kuccinich participated in one last month. According to the organizers, all candidates (republican and democratic) were invited.

  16. #16 Mark P
    December 10, 2007

    I just responded to Emily’s response to my comment over at UP. It’s not that I don’t want the next president to have a rational science policy, it’s just that I don’t expect this type of thing to shed much light on anything substantive. This is a very jolly bandwagon, but maybe some could consider a debate here as well as calling for one somewhere else.

  17. #17 James Aach
    December 10, 2007

    My field of expertise is electric energy production, and I’m almost always disappointed at anything any candidate, or reporter for that matter, says on the topic. Because they don’t deal in numbers. A drop of renewable electric energy will be equated with a gallon of fossil or nuclear fuel production. If a debate on energy is to have any real meaning, candidates statements must add up – quite literally. And the debate must be structured so that someone can immediately call them on it if they don’t.

    Good luck,

    James Aach
    Author of “Rad Decision”, the insider novel of nuclear power. Endorsed by Stewart Brand, noted futurist and founder of “The Whole Earth Catalog”. The book is available at no cost to readers at and is also in paperback at online retailers. (The author gets no royalties.)

  18. #18 Caledonian
    December 10, 2007

    Oh, wonderful.

    Look, we don’t need more position statements represented as ‘debates’. That’s not what a debate is – shame you couldn’t take the time to study the practice before going through the trouble of trying to organize one. Wouldn’t it have been useful to know what the thing was first?

    You’re both intelligent people. You know perfectly well that the recent ‘debates’ were just misrepresented stump speeches given in close physical and temporal proximity. So why do you have to repeat the excreable misuse of language?

  19. #20 David Bruggeman
    December 11, 2007

    Here is probably the most relevant (and absent) link for the website – a debate schedule.

    Given the number of debates that are scheduled and already have happened, there are few opportunities. I don’t think it likely you can swing adding a new date. Getting space on a currently scheduled event seems more practical.

    In short, after the new Super Tuesday in early February, no debates are currently scheduled until the early fall/after the conventions.

    I know having a Facebook group means absolutely nothing in terms of pull with the organization, but they are co-sponsoring simultaneous Republican and Democratic debates on January 5 – smack dab between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. This is probably your best bet in terms of maximizing the number of candidates, the number of viewers and a potentially sympathetic sponsor.

    Of course, Caledonian is spot on. These events are hijacked with regularity by candidates and moderators alike. There is also an apparent embrace of technological ignorance to wrestle with.

    Should you get something, you need a media strategy. You’ll need someone post-debate to properly frame science and technology as issues voters should care about. And no, Chris, the Seed article doesn’t cut it. Frame the issue in terms of impact on individual voters. Frame it in terms of how various candidate answers demonstrated leadership, good values, or whatever phrase resonates with the chattering classes at the time. Don’t frame it for Seed readers.

  20. #21 Laurie D. T. Mann
    December 11, 2007

    While I agree with the poster above who said we really haven’t had a presidential candidate “debate” yet, I think having some sort of candidate’s forum on science can only be good.

    For the Democrats, anyway.

    Hilary Clinton has, by the way, already published talking points on working scientific oversight back into government.

  21. #22 Mark P
    December 11, 2007

    I propose a different approach. Let this group develop a series of questions to submit to all the candidates, then publish their responses. That would give the candidates time to consider their positions and respond at length if they want. The current system of debates is not intended to produce substantive responses and useful information. It is a media circus designed to let the questioners strut and the candidates give pithy quotes for the evening news.

  22. #23 Anon
    December 11, 2007

    Can the scientific community (ies) deliver a significant voting bloc? If not, what is the motivation for any politician to spend time on these particular questions rather than pandering to groups that can deliver?

    In other words, I know what is in it for us–what is in this for the politicians? It is their behavior we are trying to change, so we need to look at their motivation.

  23. #24 Simon D
    December 11, 2007

    Fantastic. The debate system is a mess… but at least a science debate guarantees that those issues will be discussed in the press and the candidate’s views will be recorded for posterity. For example, rather than the coverage of Mike Huckabee’s sense of humour and personable nature, I’d like to see someone report that he does not believe in evolution, the founding principle of much of modern science.

  24. #25 T. "Chimpy" Greer
    December 11, 2007

    Personally, for this debate to work, I think it should steer away from the standard science quagmires of global warming and stem cells.

    Rather, I want to here about what the canidates think America’s role is in the “technological revoloution” of today’s world. I would like to see them discuss what science based branches of government should recieve the most funding. I would like to have them address what scientific groups and findings they consider credible, and I want to hear if they think that scientific research is trustworthy if funded by organizations with significant stakes in the results.

  25. #26 Dark Tent
    December 12, 2007

    Instead of havin gthe candidates debate the science, perhaps it might make more sense to have each candidate designate the scientist that he/she would install as “Adviser to the President on Science” (a position currently held by John Marburger) and have these people debate the scientific issues.

    After all, the job of President is not just — or even primarily — about knowing everything about every topic. It is (or at least is supposed to be) about “leadership”: In other words, surrounding oneself with people who are knowledgeable and capable in the area in which they are expected to implement policy.

    In fact, I would find value merely knowing before the election just whom a candidate had chosen as Science Adviser. That would probably say more than any debate ever would or even could.

  26. #27 Caledonian
    December 12, 2007

    Hilary Clinton has, by the way, already published talking points on working scientific oversight back into government.

    And since she would have absolutely no power as President to carry out her talking points, that’s all they’re ever going to be.

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