Time for a Presidential Science Debate

By David Michaels, Susan Wood, and Liz Borkowski

We’ve joined with our fellow scientists and citizens to call for presidential candidates to devote a debate to an issue we haven’t heard enough about in campaign appearances so far: science. The “Science Debate 2008” campaign is a nonpartisan effort that states:

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 call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.

We here at The Pump Handle are particularly concerned about the way that political appointees in this administration have suppressed, distorted, and ignored scientific evidence and communication about important issues, including global warming, emergency contraception, and a range of other public health issues. Some officials have failed to address important issues such as protecting consumers from dangerous drugs or chemical hazards. At the same time, the White House has issued Executive Order 13422, which erected new hurdles that make it harder for regulatory agencies to do their jobs, and has installed (via recess appointment) an anti-regulatory extremist to oversee the administration’s regulatory policies. In short, scientific federal agencies are not able to use science as they should to protect our air, water, drugs, and food and to address large-scale health and environmental problems. It is imperative that the next president reverse these damaging trends and restore scientific integrity to federal policy. Therefore, we suggest that presidential candidates answer the following questions:

• How will you ensure that decisions and research priorities at scientific agencies are based on the best science, rather than ideological considerations?

• How will you ensure that government scientists are able to communicate findings important for public health to those who need to know about them?

• What criteria will you use to select people for appointments at scientific agencies?

• In your budget, will you call for the increased resources scientific agencies need in order to protect the public’s health, safety, and environment?

• Do you agree that all members of scientific advisory committees should be free of financial conflicts of interests, and what steps will you take to eliminate or reduce these conflicts?

• How will you restore morale within the scientific agencies and ensure that they are able to attract top scientific talent in the future?

• Will you reverse Executive Order 13422 and restore regulatory agencies’ independence to set priorities based on their missions?

A Blog Around the Clock, Adventures in Ethics and Science, and The Questionable Authority have more suggested questions and issues for the debate, and the Science Debate 2008 website has more information and an opportunity for concerned citizens to join the call for a Science Debate.

Comments

  1. #1 Brett
    December 12, 2007

    This is something we should have flooded the youtube debates with- I think it’s too late to schedule any real debates for the primaries and the best way might be to get the questions on an agenda for the actual presidential race- this might mean that the candidates who DO care about these issue won’t win- IMO the solution, because we’re already behind the bar, is to go direct to every candidate and see what STOCK AWNSERS they have- get the word out on those and that would force the candidates to get real awnsers- almost every big candidate already had an army of thinktanks for this stuff, but youre right, besides edwards no ones set out a document explaining(and he hasnt hit all these) what theyre ACTUALLY planning on doing, step by step, once they get in office.

    Personally I think most the candidates already know who they’re planning on assigning to head offices- to me when you vote you’re voting for those people MORE than the actual president, so I’d like to know, and status quo in Washington is you don’t tell. is it the science community who forces that change in status quo?

  2. #2 Liz
    December 13, 2007

    Yeah, the best scenario at this point probably is to have a question or two in the debate during the general election – perhaps the energy and exposure that the effort is generating will help that happen.

    As for appointments, I’m sure candidates are making short lists now, and so perhaps getting these questions into the public eye will influence candidates’ selections to some extent.

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