The Intersection

Many said it would never happen so call February 16, 2008 ‘historic’ because there’s been a science debate here in Boston at AAAS (the largest science conference on the planet) between the presidential campaigns!

With a day’s notice, conference organizers invited representatives from all the candidates in both parties to come to a session moderated by Claudia Dreifus of the NYTimes. The Clinton and Obama camps took the invitation very seriously demonstrating they not only care, but indeed, they want to be engaged in discussing the significance of science and technology on the campaign trail. By yesterday afternoon, AAAS put out an announcement that the event would happen at 3:30 Saturday–and today’s venue was PACKED! (Whoever said scientists aren’t interested in politics?)

The debate was a 90-minute format and I sat alongside friends and fellow SD’08 steering committee members Lawrence Krauss, Matthew Chapman, and Austin Dacey. Each campaign representative was first given eight minutes to introduce their candidate’s platform on science and technology followed by a question and answer period. Claudia did an extraordinary job of introducing why this is so necessary and choosing the questions we all want to ask…

What are the candidates plans if elected regarding science and technology? Both promised enormous increased funding for research and education, and Claudia followed by asking about the details on how they plan to do it. How do they feel about investing on projects like exploring Mars and what sets them apart from the other candidates and the current administration? The audience had the opportunity to submit questions as well which included inquiring what their administration’s priorities would be, how science will be utilized to better inform policy decisions, who the candidates will look to for honest information, and much, much more. The list goes on and on and will shortly be available on the AAAS website. [Check back here soon for details on what was said and how each side performed–including photos and possibly video.]

And the best part? The climax that launched a round of tremendous applause from the audience: Claudia asked both representatives: Will your candidate be at ScienceDebate2008 on April 18th in Philidelphia?

Time will tell‘ from Clinton’s camp, to which Obama’s rep reported it’s being very seriously considered, followed with an enthusiastic, ‘I endorse it!

So… A Presidential Debate on Science and Technology? Well, it sure doesn’t seem all that outlandish anymore! Clinton and Obama have certainly demonstrated in a very public way that they care and are prepared to make a strong case for science in their candidacy.

Just think, in two months nearly the entire scientific community has embraced ScienceDebate2008 along with leaders in business, politics, and beyond. And the campaigns are listening–Boston today serves as evidence! We hope you’ll help make it happen: Contact the campaigns and tell them you want the presidential candidates to attend ScienceDebate2008!

And stay tuned, because this is only the beginning… the prelims for the main event on April 18th!



  1. #1 mcmillan
    February 16, 2008

    Honestly I wasn’t that impressed by the event. I didn’t feel like I learned that much new that I hadn’t already seen in other places. I think the biggest thing it showed was the level of commitment the campaigns seem willing to show towards science, the Dems were willing to send someone with Clinton’s representative seeming more polished and prepared, McCain’s campaign saying they’d like to have sent someone but couldn’t with short notice and the other Republicans didn’t respond from what I got from the introduction.

  2. #2 Coturnix
    February 16, 2008

    w00t! Good questions. Wish I was there. Waiting for the video…

  3. #3 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    February 16, 2008

    I don’t disagree… Expect a long commentary on forum itself coming. And I won’t mince words 😉

    But the principle point is that the campaigns took the invitation very seriously, appeared before a tremendous audience and community of scientists from all fields, and publicly addressed the invitation to ScienceDebate2008.

    That makes a pretty strong statement that they’re willing and intend to address science and technology on the campaign trail. And we should expect nothing less!

  4. #4 Tony Jeremiah
    February 16, 2008

    Re:(Whoever said scientists aren’t interested in politics?)

    **It’s a rare phenomenon, but everyone once in awhile…

    The Goal of Sending a Man to the Moon (May 25, 1961)

  5. #5 Randy Olson
    February 16, 2008

    McMillan – the question is, who is the intended audience of a presidential science debate? If its science folks who are well read on every political issue that science touches, then it will be disappointing, as you say. But if it involves the actual presidential candidates, then it will be on television, and if its on television, then the audience is true masses (NOT academics, they do not make up a significant part of the television audience), who collectively know zippo about science, so it had better be at a very elementary level. Which means that if its successful, you’ll be disappointed again.

    I say this out of experience. I have a movie, Flock of Dodos, about the evolution-intelligent design controversy, for which I have had to listen to a number of major evolutionists tell me they were “disappointed” that they didn’t learn anything when they watched it — just as you’re saying about this debate. Yet its on Showtime right now, primarily because it isn’t packed with what the specialists were looking for.

  6. #6 Abel Pharmboy
    February 17, 2008

    A superb insight, Dr Olson – “we” are not the intended audience for the upcoming debate, although we are indeed interested stakeholders. The popularity of Flock of Dodos among the general viewing public speaks well to that very point.

    Terrific news, Sheril – thanks for keeping us in the loop.

  7. #7 Linda
    February 17, 2008

    Great news, great news, and getting more exciting every day.
    If the Clinton and Obama camps had the time and made the effort to be there, how valid is Mccain’s excuse for not attending?

  8. #8 bioephemera
    February 17, 2008

    I agree with the first commenter, actually – having observed the debate, I was not that impressed with either side. Clinton’s rep was definitely the more solid and specific of the two, but rather uninspiring. And I know Obama has more knowledgeable scientists in his camp than the chosen rep (who referred us to Obama’s website so often the audience started giggling). So perhaps the campaigns actually didn’t have time to pull much together, and McCain’s excuse is not so outlandish? (Not that I support McCain, mind you).

    Whatever the reasons, it totally underscored the need for a debate of these issues between the candidates themselves, and not merely their proxies.

  9. #9 Caledonian
    February 17, 2008

    Whatever the reasons, it totally underscored the need for a debate of these issues between the candidates themselves, and not merely their proxies.

    More than that – it totally underscored the need for an actual debate, and not just a press release / photo opportunity.

  10. #10 SLC
    February 17, 2008

    This is still not getting any play in the mainstream media. A google news search found nothing about this AAAS debate in the mainstream media. This will never get any traction unless and until the mainstream media covers it.

  11. #11 Mary
    February 17, 2008

    Well, I was pleased–they took my question 🙂 I asked about genetic privacy issues. I keep hearing about all these electronic medical records, but until we are protected from our bad genes I really worry about everything being quickly searchable by the insurers.

    But I think my favorite part was the advice from Alec Ross, the Obama rep. Paraphrasing: that scientists should be trying to speak with a more unified voice–and not balkanize among ourselves on our turf issues based on a single research area, for example. We should keep the larger goal in mind of choosing the candidate who will do the best for us as a group.

    I think we need to be better advocates for ourselves to use our influence effectively–for good.

  12. #12 David Bruggeman
    February 17, 2008

    Only the major daily for the host city of the AAAS meeting ever does any coverage. Most of it revolves around some scientific presentation that manages to keep the reporters attention long enough to write about it.

    After all, the AAAS meeting is just another convention, with very little in the way of unified messages. And yes, I’ve been to one. The campaigns, on short notice, responded to a niche interest group. What follows from this should emphasize that gosh, it was nice for you to show up and all, but that won’t satisfy us. As there’s an ad campaign in Wisconsin revolving around debates, pressure must continue, if not increase.

    For what it’s worth, technology policy reps from the various campaigns appeared at an Internet conference in January. One of the concerns coming from that discussion was that technology issues are also underplayed in the campaign. So scientists aren’t the only ones engaged in Sisyphean efforts. It’s a bit more disappointing on the technology side, because the lack of play for technology issues appears to be more intentional than the overlooking of science issues.

  13. #13 UsedToCare
    February 18, 2008

    No mention as to whether or not reps from alternative party campaigns were invited. If not, then what could we learn from this “debate” we can’t learn from the candidates’ websites, as the Obama campaign rep pointed out so well?

    For example, wouldn’t the representative from the Green party, by defintion, have the most to say about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Wouldn’t the Libertarian party rep have the best plan for free-market solutions to environmental woes? Wouldn’t the Socialist party rep have some ideas about the tie-ins between environmental degradation and lack of self-determination for indigenous peoples?

    Even if the alternative party candidates have a snowball’s chance of being elected anytime in the next 200 years, does that mean their ideas should be ignored?

    As noted, perhaps McCain’s campaign recognized that they didn’t, in fact, have time to reschedule someone -who could do a good job- on such short notice.

  14. #14 Joe
    February 18, 2008

    How does the AAAS get away with calling itself the “largest science conference on the planet”, and why do you repeat such nonsense? There are any number of larger conferences. The fall American Geophysical Union meeting has more than double the number of attendees than AAAS. Society for Neuroscience has at least double that.

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