Science Debate Set for April 18th

The date is set for the presidential candidates’ Science Debate 2008 – it’ll be April 18th at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute – so now the push is to get candidates’ commitment to participate. Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Barack Obama have been invited, and the fact that the debate is set for four days before the Pennsylvania primary may encourage them to make it a priority.

Blogger and author Chris Mooney, one of the campaign’s co-organizers, asks bloggers, scientists, and concerned citizens to contact the campaigns to encourage their participation; write letters to local papers to spread the word; and help swell the list of supporters from 13,000 to 15,000. (You can go here to add your name to the list, and here to tell friends about the effort.)

On his Dot Earth blog, the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin wonders whether the candidates will show up:

Now the big question is whether [the candidates’] handlers will allow them to engage the thorniest scientific issues — like the dribble of money that the United States has invested in energy research through Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses; fetal rights and embryonic stem cell research; the need to add a cost to burning fossil fuels; reconciling science with belief in an all-powerful deity; the theory of evolution, which so many Americans (read voters) reject; etc.

Is there a big enough constituency passionate about science and related issues for campaign strategists to justify having candidates spend an hour or two on such prickly issues?

The latest polling from the Pew Research Center on public concern (the lack of it, actually) about climate change doesn’t suggest a groundswell. I’d like to think the candidates and their advisers will consent, but my guess is they’ll offer surrogates (although I’ll happily be proved wrong).

It’s not just the size of the constituency that’s important, though – it’s the level of influence we can wield. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Council on Competitiveness, and the National Academies have all signed on as co-sponsors, and the list of supporters includes dozens of Nobel laureates and current and former government officials. Support from respected organizations and individuals doesn’t necessarily translate into clout, but signs suggest that it might: so far, the Science Debate effort has attracted a good amount of media attention and energized the scientific community, and having an event date will provide an added boost.

Revkin is inviting his commenters to suggest questions for the debate, and there were 90 at mid-morning. Here are the questions that The Pump Handle proposed back in December:

• 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?

What would you add to the list?


  1. #1 BrettB
    February 14, 2008

    Great to hear, just joined the facebook group, I’ll probably have some free time come march(LOL!) so perhaps we can get some youtube pressure put on the candidates- I know Obama has a big internet team, Im not sure the size of Hillary and Mccain’s