The Scientific Activist

Over at A Blog Around the Clock, Bora has posted an interview he conducted by email with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on science and science-related issues. The fact that John Edwards participated is a good indication that the 2008 candidates (at least the Democratic ones) are taking scientists, bloggers, and even science bloggers seriously. Props to Edwards for playing ball, and a big “well done” to Bora for arranging this.

Bora asked Edwards eight questions on some of the more important and timely science-related issues facing America, including global warming, health care, agricultural policy, education, the future of NASA, and political interference in science. Edwards says all of the right things, except perhaps when (as pointed out previously) he pushes ethanol fuel. He only gives it a passing mention, though, and he more admirably takes on farm subsidies (although these two positions are arguably irreconcilable). Edwards also gives fairly short and vague answers to some of the more interesting questions on scientific education, scientific advising, NASA, and political interference in science.

Edwards really shines, though, when he talks about global warming. He tackles the issue head-on, and he even makes some fairly specific promises:

What the scientific community says today is – taking into account what’s going on in the developing world — the U.S. needs to reduce our global greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. As president, I will enact a national cap on carbon emissions that meets that goal.

In terms of how we get there, we need to invest in renewable energies like wind, solar, and biofuels. And we have to raise the fuel-efficiency standards significantly in this country. I believe the number is 40 miles per gallon by 2016. That would single-handedly reduce oil demand by 4 million barrels per day….

I will create a New Energy Economy Fund by auctioning off greenhouse pollution permits and repealing subsidies for big oil companies. The fund will support U.S. research and development in energy technology, help entrepreneurs start new businesses, invest in new carbon-capture and efficient automobile technology and help Americans conserve energy. Finally, we must reduce the demand for more electricity through efficiency for the next decade, instead of producing more electricity.

Our generation must be the one that says, “We must halt global warming.” If we don’t act now, it will be too late. Our generation must be the one that says “yes” to renewable fuels and ends forever our dependence on foreign oil. Our generation must be the one that accepts responsibility for conserving natural resources and demands the tools to do it. And our generation must be the one that builds the New Energy Economy. How do we do it? It won’t be easy, but it is time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war.

Overall, this interview certainly doesn’t give me any reasons to not like Edwards, and it gives me plenty of points to be optimistic about. I wouldn’t have any qualms about supporting him, although he had better be ready for a tough uphill battle if he’s going to be a serious contender against Obama or Clinton. I would like, however, to hear more specifics about how an Edwards Administration would tackle declining success rates of NIH grants and declining support for basic science at NASA, as well as how the U.S. can make up for the years it’s lost in not federally funding embryonic stem cell research during the Bush Administration. I’d like to hear a detailed plan for avoiding political interference in science from throughout the executive branch. In addition, I’d like to see him include nuclear energy as one point in a comprehensive plan for addressing global warming. It’s a great start, though.

Read the interview here, and let Bora and John Edwards know what you think here.