The Intersection

ScienceDebate2008–The Latest

i-8808a1a70f2b4c43ecb40c250ca68be3-sciencedebate2008.jpg Well it has been a wild ride so far…I wish this was my day job.

ScienceDebate2008 now has, by my count, more than 80 bloggers in our coalition. And honestly, I’m very much afraid that some bloggers seeking to join up may have slipped through the cracks or not been added yet.

And that’s just one indication that we have generated a seismic online discussion of the need for a presidential debate on science in the current campaign cycle. Bora, who invaluably tracks such things, tallies well over 100 posts on the subject since Monday. This is, like, bigger than the famous framing debate. No wonder our ScienceDebate2008 Facebook group has been joined by more than 1,200 people. [Kinda scary–now we’re going to have to tell them all to do something….]

So what now? Well, we gave bloggers early notice, but the ScienceDebate2008 campaign has now been officially announced in commentaries by myself and Lawrence Krauss in the Los Angeles Times, by Sheril and Matthew Chapman on Huffington Post, and by another of our collaborators, House of Sand and Fog screenwriter Shawn Lawrence Otto, at

As I stressed yesterday and will stress again, the Huffington item is particularly important, because it begins to address some misconceptions that have cropped up about this idea. In particular, this is not some pop quiz that we’re talking about for the candidates. We don’t want to see how many facts they can recite. No: we want to see how they think about science policy in its broadest and most resonant sense. And that’s what we must continue to push for.

ScienceDebate2008 has hit the ground running, and our next step organizationally will be to formally contact the campaigns and party committees to request debate participation. But in the meantime, I hope some of the links above will help keep this dialogue alive.

And there’s a bit more to say. In particular, we need to answer those who claim this debate can’t happen, it’s too late in the campaign season, it doesn’t benefit the campaigns, yada yada. On this front I really like what Mark Hoofnagle over at Denialist had to say. Mark convincingly answered the naysayers out there who are claiming that calling for this debate isn’t realistic. We all know it’s an uphill battle, to be sure–but that doesn’t make it impossible. If enough people want such a debate, if enough people come together demand it, it can become a reality.

Furthermore, if it’s late in the campaign season…well, that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? To me, the very fact that the campaigns have not been pressed nearly enough yet on science and technology policy makes it EVEN MORE NECESSARY that they be put on the record in this area.

In short, it’s precisely because the political hour grows late that we need a presidential science debate–before it grows any later.

And for now, I’ll leave you with that thought.


  1. #1 eyesopen
    December 13, 2007

    I recently started a blog called “Science Sense” (you may need to copy and paste the URL)
    and I’d be pleased if you would add it to the Science Debate 2008 list.

    My latest post is about Science Debate 2008.

    I don’t think it should be a pop quiz, but we expect candidates to distinguish shiites from sunnis, so why can’t we expect them to talk intelligently about global warming and energy policy? Also, I think any candidate who claims not to believe in “evolution” needs to be able to articulate what the theory is, and when they think it is OK for belief to trump evidence.

  2. #2 Wes Rolley
    December 13, 2007

    I find it interesting that two of the environmental bloggers, Andrew Revkin (dot earth) and Dave Roberts (Gristmill) have ignored this.

    I have posted comments at both places linking to the Science Debate 2008 site, but no replies, nothing, nada.

    Maybe I expect too much. Maybe that is why I was hopeful, but pessimistic.

  3. #3 T. "Chimpy" Greer
    December 13, 2007

    I think your biggest problem with getting the debate started has to do with the fact that you are asking both Republicans and Democrats to come to the debate. I mean, neither side will agree to get on stage with the other, what makes you think they will change about face in the near future? The fact that ideas very similar to this one have been rejected by the canidates before makes this debate all the more unlikely.

  4. #4 Gerard Harbison
    December 13, 2007

    I’d like one of the candidates in particular to tell us if traumatic childbirth is a common cause of cerebral palsy. I’d like all of them to estimate what percentage of cancer is caused by exposure to synthetic chemicals, and what the percentage difference in atmospheric CO2 levels in 2012 would have been had the Kyoto limits been fully implemented. I’d like them to justify the relative national expenditures on research and treatment of AIDS, heart disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer. I’d like them to tell me by what percentage emissions of atmospheric carbon are reduced by driving with ethanol rather than gasoline as a fuel – and I mean including the entire fuel cycle.

    But you know what? I wouldn’t expect a straight answer on any of those questions from any of the candidates, let alone a scientifically literate one.

  5. #5 T. "Chimpy" Greer
    December 13, 2007

    @Mr. Harbinson:

    Why? As Chris and Sheril have mentioned before, this debate is not supposed to be a pop quiz on science. You are asking for very specific answers the canidates should not be expected to know. As I said on another of the scienceblogs covering this topic, these canidates are not running for Researcher in Cheif.

  6. #6 Gerry L
    December 13, 2007

    They’ve already set the dates (?) and locations of the three planned post-nomination debates — and none is in the west. Portland, Oregon, was in the running but was not selected. How about proposing a location for the science debate — some place west of the Rockies? A university with a strong science reputation.

  7. #7 Gerard Harbison
    December 14, 2007

    You are asking for very specific answers the canidates should not be expected to know.

    Not at all; on the contrary, many of the questions I asked can’t be answered very specifically.. But they do probe whether the person has a basically scientific view of the world. I don’t think anyone knows how much cancer is caused by synthetic chemicals; but a scientifically literate person knows it’s a very small percentage of total cancer. A scientifically literate person also knows that even if all countries who pledged to do so had met their Kyoto targets (and almost nobody did), CO2 levels would have continued to rise at a hardly reduced rate. A scientifically literate person would be aware that there has been a lot of discussion about whether replacing gasoline with ethanol from corn even breaks even in its effects on atmospheric CO2. A scientifically literate person would know research expenditures on various diseases have only a weak relationship with their mortality, and are more a product of politics. And so on.

    The ‘cerebral palsy’ question, of course, is a dig at Edwards, who based his legal career on suing obstetricians for causing birth defects we know they did not cause. I bad.

  8. #8 rjb
    December 14, 2007

    A scientifically literate person would know research expenditures on various diseases have only a weak relationship with their mortality, and are more a product of politics.

    OK, I’ll bite. I’m wondering what your measurement is here, and also I’d like to know if you are considering quality of life indicators too, such as return to productivity, increasing lifespan, decreasing debilitating progression of disease. I admit I have no numbers, but it seems just looking at a few diseases (AIDS and rheumatoid arthritis, for example), we definitely do not have cures, but the treatments that we do have… many of them developed through research spending in the US… has led to increased quality of life indicators for millions of people. Mortality isn’t the only measure of success (after all, 100% of people die).

  9. #9 PhysioProf
    December 14, 2007

    “Not at all; on the contrary, many of the questions I asked can’t be answered very specifically.. But they do probe whether the person has a basically scientific view of the world.”

    No, they don’t. I am a relatively successful active scientist working in the biomedical sciences, and I don’t know the answers to any of your questions off the top of my head. Of course, I could easily find out the answers with a few minutes effort, as could any lucid individual with Internet access.

    If there were to be some kind of science debate, the purpose should not be to probe candidates on specific answers to particular “gotcha” type scientific policy questions (which is what all of yours essentially are). The purpose should be to probe the *process* by which candidates will incorporate scientific and technical information into policy decision-making.

    I really don’t give flying fuck whether a presidential candidate personally knows anything at all about the causes of cerebral palsy (or any other disease), or exact expected parameters of CO2 accumulation under particular emission scenarios. I do care deeply that he or she will implement a non-insane process for incorporating expert scientific and technical opinion into their decision-making processes, one that can distinguish between reasonably supported scientific conclusions and bullshit propaganda spewed by one or another interest group.

  10. #10 T. "Chimpy" Greer
    December 14, 2007

    Take out the cussing and I agree entirely with PhysioProf. I care a bit more about how a canidate will act than what specific factoid they will know.

New comments have been disabled.