If you haven’t heard, fellow ScienceBloggers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum of The Intersection have launched a movement called Sciencedebate 2008, in which they demand that the presidential candidates have a debate entirely on science and science-related issues. They’ve received the backing of Nobel laureates, editors and journalists, prominent business people for this 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.
The progressive blogosphere seems to be very enthusiastic about the concept, and it’s already made it to Daily Kos.
The thing is, I’m just not sure I see the point. Several of the issues that would, I assume, be central in any science-related debate have already been central in the general debates of both parties, including stem cells, the environment, health care, and education. Each of the major candidates has laid out plans and programs related to these issues, either in the debates themselves or elsewhere. What would a science-only debate accomplish? What would we learn about the candidates that we don’t already know? Or if the purpose is to make science issues more salient to the general public, isn’t the fact that they’ve already been central in the debates enough to do that?
I can’t help but think that this is an attempt by scientists and those who support them to exert more influence on politics generally, and while in some ways more scientific influence would be a good thing (e.g., in educating politicians and the public about global warming or the science of stem cells), overall I think it’s dangerous. Scientists are, by and large, no more knowledgeable of policy (even science-related policy, such as the economic and diplomatic issues surrounding global warming policy) than the general public, and too much of a mixture of politics and science can only be bad for science.
At this point, there seems to be a largely reflexive pro-Sciencedebate reaction in the progressive blogosphere, and ScienceBlogs in particular, but I’d love to see some discussion of it. So what do you folks think?