A Call For A Presidential Debate On Science!

Several dozen nonpartisan organizations have joined together to ask for a Science Debate in the current campaign. The debate would address major issues in science, engineering, health and the environment

This is part of an effort that has been going on for several election cycles, with a certain degree of success.

More than 10 million scientists and engineers are represented by the organizations that have joined in this effort. They have provided a list of twenty major issues, and are encouraging journalists and voters to press the candidates on them during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election season.

“Taken collectively, these twenty issues have at least as profound an impact on voters’ lives as those more frequently covered by journalists, including candidates’ views on economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values,” said Shawn Otto, who has been a principle organizer of this project. (Shawn is also the author of this recent book, and he speaks with Mike Haubrich and me about science in politics in this interview.)

ScienceDebate.org recently commissioned a poll, in cooperation with Research!America, which showed that nearly 90% of Americans want the presidential and congressional candidates to have at least a basic understanding of policy-relevant science.

But what questions should be asked in a science debate? One of the counter arguments to such a debate, and this perception is a concern of the organizers, is that people will confuse “science debate” with “science quiz.” This is not about science, but how science and policy relate. So, the question, “what is the mechanism, at the atomic or molecular level, that makes some gasses greenhouse gasses, as opposed to others, which seem inert in this respect?” would NOT be good question. A more appropriate question might be, “What your best guess as to the most likely warming scenario, caused by human greenhouse gas pollution, over the next several decades; based on the best science, how much more global warming is going to happen during your administration, and what can we do about it?”

The ScienceDebate group has been asking for suggestions, from the general public, as to what issues and questions might form the core of a public discussion and organized debate. They then submitted the 20 most pressing questions to the Presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein, “along with an invitation to the candidates to answer them in writing and to discuss them on television,” said Otto. The results of this effort would then be widely distributed to guide journalists in their coverage, the general public in their voting, and perhaps even scientists in, well, adjusting their level of alarm!

Here’s a video Sciencedebate.org produced a while back with a slightly different spin on the question process. Personally, I think these kids should run the debate!

“Sometimes politicians think science issues are limited to simply things like the budget for NASA or NIH, and they fail to realize that a President’s attitude toward and decisions about science and research affect the public wellbeing, from the growth of our economy, to education, to public health. Voters should have a chance to know where the Presidential candidates stand,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “We want journalists and voters to ask these questions insistently of the candidates and their campaign staff.”

“By engaging the candidates in a debate focusing on topics in science, engineering, technology, and innovation,” said Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences. “it would be an opportunity for all voters to gauge how the candidates would use sound technical information in their future decision making."

“Informing citizens about the health of the nation and discussing pivotal science and policy issues such as mental health, chronic and emerging diseases and other public health threats, and vaccine research, are important to not only advance the national dialogue but also improve the country’s overall well-being,” said Victor J. Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine.

“Ahead lie many Grand Challenges for Engineering whose solution in this century have been posited as necessary for simply maintaining our quality of life,” said C. D. Mote, Jr., President of the National Academy of Engineering. “Unfortunately, these challenges stand unrecognized in the US Presidential debates."

Here are the questions

The candidate have been asked to provide responses by September 6.

Nonpartisan organizations participating in the effort include:

*American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association of Geographers
*American Chemical Society
American Fisheries Society
American Geophysical Union
*American Geosciences Institute
American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering
*American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Institute of Professional Geologists
American Rock Mechanics Association
American Society for Engineering Education
American Society of Agronomy
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
American Society of Mammalogists
Association for Women in Geosciences
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Automation Federation
*Biophysical Society
Botanical Society of America
Carnegie Institution for Science
Conservation Lands Foundation
Crop Science Society of America
Duke University
Ecological Society of America
Geological Society of America
International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Materials Research Society
NACE International, The Worldwide Corrosion Authority
*National Academy of Engineering
*National Academy of Medicine
*National Academy of Sciences
National Cave and Karst Research Institute
*National Center for Science Education
National Ground Water Association
Natural Science Collections Alliance
Northeastern University
Organization of Biological Field Stations
Paleontological Society
Scientific American magazine
Seismological Society of America
*Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
Society of Fire Protection Engineers
Society of Wetland Scientists
Society of Women Engineers
Soil Science Society of America
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Tufts University
*Union of Concerned Scientists
University City Science Center
*U.S. Council on Competitiveness
The Wildlife Society
World Endometriosis Research Foundation America

*Codeveloper of the questions
**Lead partner organization


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Heh! Good luck with that.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 10 Aug 2016 #permalink

Which science.

The replicated science or the non-replicated science?

Seems like we need to fix the replication problem in science to make sure "the science" is actually correct before we start debating it.

"The replicated science or the non-replicated science?"


By Desertphile (not verified) on 10 Aug 2016 #permalink

In reply to by RickA (not verified)

RickA, Science is knowledge of the physical world.

Which "replicated" knowledge are you referring to?

Seems like you need to fix your thinking to make sure your speech is actually sensible before we start debating it.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 10 Aug 2016 #permalink

Who's going to debate on the GOP side?

"Who’s going to debate on the GOP side?"

No one.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 11 Aug 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Kurt (not verified)

Greg wrote: The candidate have been asked to provide responses by September 6.

I know you meant to make that plural — "candidates" — but it's a fortunate error IMO. The reason is that I think we can predict Trump's answers (read: non-answers) assuming he bothers to respond at all. He might have his time pre-empted by a fundraiser for the NRA or some other charity he favors...

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 10 Aug 2016 #permalink

That's an excellent set of questions, by the way.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 10 Aug 2016 #permalink

They'll need to rewrite those questions, blame China and Hillary for everything, also rewrite them using no more than two syllables per word and have someone carefully explain even that to Trump .

By Douglas Alder (not verified) on 10 Aug 2016 #permalink

It will be hard enough to drag Trump to any of the regular debates. I'm afraid this worthy idea is DOA.

"It will be hard enough to drag Trump to any of the regular debates"

All of the candidates would insist upon knowing the questions many days before the debate(s) so that their corporate sponsors may approve the answers. There is no way Trump will debate anyone with a brain.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 10 Aug 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Magma (not verified)

"We have a small — a very, very small planet compared to the universe, right?" Donald Trump to VA coal miners, Aug 10

Let's not forget that calling the things that will occur "debates" is an insult to the word debate.

"Let’s not forget that calling the things that will occur “debates” is an insult to the word debate."

... just look at the size of my hands!

By Desertphile (not verified) on 11 Aug 2016 #permalink

In reply to by dean (not verified)

RickA, #8, did you read it or not? Because if you did you would know you're missing any form of relevance for your link.

RickA, #8, did you read it or not? Because if you did you would know you’re missing any form of relevance.


By Brainstorms (not verified) on 11 Aug 2016 #permalink

“Who’s going to debate on the GOP side?”

Donald Trump will send his hands.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 11 Aug 2016 #permalink

Speaking of debates: 500 comments on "Only you can prevent gun violence." Is this a record for Greg Laden's blog?

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 11 Aug 2016 #permalink

Nope. At least one of the Michael Mann posts went well above that.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 11 Aug 2016 #permalink

No questions on the selection, role, and level of personal access, of a science advisor?