Call for a Presidential Science Debate

So, finally, Sheril and I can tell you what we've been working on.

Let's begin with some background: Nearly a month ago, I linked up with Matthew Chapman, the author, screenwriter, and great grandson of Charles Darwin. Chapman, I already knew, had a great idea that I wanted to write about in my forthcoming Seed column: A call for a debate among the current crop of presidential candidates solely devoted to issues in science and technology.

i-8808a1a70f2b4c43ecb40c250ca68be3-sciencedebate2008.jpg One thing led to another, and before long--along with many others, including Sheril (whose contribution has been invaluable) and Physics of Star Trek author Lawrence Krauss-- I was helping Chapman organize a push to make this happen. First we got together a distinguished list of scientific luminaries, and later, we assembled a complementary blogger coalition, all in support of the following 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.

And now, today, we're going public!

We're firmly convinced this is an idea whose time has come. The candidates need to talk science and technology policy on the campaign trail, and not in an occasional way, but in a debate format. Nobel Laureates, former presidential science advisers, leaders of industry and universities, and many others agree with us.

So we hope you'll visit the ScienceDebate2008 website, browse the lists (scientists, bloggers), click the button pledging your support, head over and also join us on Facebook--and above all, spread the word!!!!

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originally published December 10, 2007 by Chris C. Mooney So, finally, Sheril and I can tell you what we've been working on. Let's begin with some background: Nearly a month ago, I linked up with Matthew Chapman, the author, screenwriter, and great grandson of Charles Darwin. Chapman, I already…
In case you've been living in a hole that doesn't have internet access, something is brewing on the internet.A CALL FOR A PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for…
Just a P.S.--if ignorance like Mike Huckabee's comments on HIV/AIDS drives you nuts, check out what Chris and Sheril (among others) have put together, calling for real debate on science and technology issues by the presidential candidates: Given the many urgent scientific and technological…
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…

After this Bush-scientific void for so many years, this is indeed welcome news, and I applaud you, Sheril, and everyone else concerned towards this effort. It's a great idea, and I eagerly await hearing the discourse...

okay, spread the word, easy enough. great.

now what? as far as I can tell the only realistic goal is to get some MSM traction and maybe hope for a couple of additional science questions in the usual debates. what is your blogger coalition going to do? is Kennedy going to editorialize in Science?


And LONG overdue.

Great idea!

By Jon Winsor (not verified) on 10 Dec 2007 #permalink

Sheril, you're beautiful.

I've never visited before, but found your site throug Daily Kos. I'll be back.

Good luck to both of you.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but I doubt this will come to anything and, if it does, I doubt it will produce much of use. I think the result would be the transformation of science and science policy into sound bites. I commented further at Uncertain Principles.

Don't let Mark be a wet blanket - I've posted a quick reply to his comment over at Uncertain Principles - basically pointing out that both Dems and Reps have mixed marks on science - both as an issue and in their own level of expertise (including a few on both sides of the aisle with advanced degrees in science and math) - and that science deserves just as much attention as health care, the war, and other issues that have all gotten quite a bit of air time during this extended election cycle.

On a follow-up...does anyone know of websites or other records that track the number of Congresspeople with educational or career training in science/tech?

it is an excellent idea that is long overdue. It is an idea that has been discussed before, but there is a world of difference between having an idea and making it happen. You deserve credit for taking it beyond the idea stage and working to make it happen.

I applaud everyone's effort. For this debate in particular, I believe candidates should have to speak for longer than the traditional 60, 90, or 120 seconds. By pushing the candidates beyond their soundbites and canned responses, the audience will get true glimpses of a candidate's knowledge, values, and thought processes as the candidate is forced to reveal their knowledge of a subject and their ability to offer up evidence to support their stand.

Also, there has already been at least one debate on solely environmental issues for the democratic candidates. Edwards, Clinton, and Kuccinich participated in one last month. According to the organizers, all candidates (republican and democratic) were invited.

By Harry Abernathy (not verified) on 10 Dec 2007 #permalink

I just responded to Emily's response to my comment over at UP. It's not that I don't want the next president to have a rational science policy, it's just that I don't expect this type of thing to shed much light on anything substantive. This is a very jolly bandwagon, but maybe some could consider a debate here as well as calling for one somewhere else.

My field of expertise is electric energy production, and I'm almost always disappointed at anything any candidate, or reporter for that matter, says on the topic. Because they don't deal in numbers. A drop of renewable electric energy will be equated with a gallon of fossil or nuclear fuel production. If a debate on energy is to have any real meaning, candidates statements must add up - quite literally. And the debate must be structured so that someone can immediately call them on it if they don't.

Good luck,

James Aach
Author of "Rad Decision", the insider novel of nuclear power. Endorsed by Stewart Brand, noted futurist and founder of "The Whole Earth Catalog". The book is available at no cost to readers at and is also in paperback at online retailers. (The author gets no royalties.)

Oh, wonderful.

Look, we don't need more position statements represented as 'debates'. That's not what a debate is - shame you couldn't take the time to study the practice before going through the trouble of trying to organize one. Wouldn't it have been useful to know what the thing was first?

You're both intelligent people. You know perfectly well that the recent 'debates' were just misrepresented stump speeches given in close physical and temporal proximity. So why do you have to repeat the excreable misuse of language?

By Caledonian (not verified) on 10 Dec 2007 #permalink

Here is probably the most relevant (and absent) link for the website - a debate schedule.…

Given the number of debates that are scheduled and already have happened, there are few opportunities. I don't think it likely you can swing adding a new date. Getting space on a currently scheduled event seems more practical.

In short, after the new Super Tuesday in early February, no debates are currently scheduled until the early fall/after the conventions.

I know having a Facebook group means absolutely nothing in terms of pull with the organization, but they are co-sponsoring simultaneous Republican and Democratic debates on January 5 - smack dab between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. This is probably your best bet in terms of maximizing the number of candidates, the number of viewers and a potentially sympathetic sponsor.

Of course, Caledonian is spot on. These events are hijacked with regularity by candidates and moderators alike. There is also an apparent embrace of technological ignorance to wrestle with.…

Should you get something, you need a media strategy. You'll need someone post-debate to properly frame science and technology as issues voters should care about. And no, Chris, the Seed article doesn't cut it. Frame the issue in terms of impact on individual voters. Frame it in terms of how various candidate answers demonstrated leadership, good values, or whatever phrase resonates with the chattering classes at the time. Don't frame it for Seed readers.

By David Bruggeman (not verified) on 10 Dec 2007 #permalink

While I agree with the poster above who said we really haven't had a presidential candidate "debate" yet, I think having some sort of candidate's forum on science can only be good.

For the Democrats, anyway.

Hilary Clinton has, by the way, already published talking points on working scientific oversight back into government.

I propose a different approach. Let this group develop a series of questions to submit to all the candidates, then publish their responses. That would give the candidates time to consider their positions and respond at length if they want. The current system of debates is not intended to produce substantive responses and useful information. It is a media circus designed to let the questioners strut and the candidates give pithy quotes for the evening news.

Can the scientific community (ies) deliver a significant voting bloc? If not, what is the motivation for any politician to spend time on these particular questions rather than pandering to groups that can deliver?

In other words, I know what is in it for us--what is in this for the politicians? It is their behavior we are trying to change, so we need to look at their motivation.

Fantastic. The debate system is a mess... but at least a science debate guarantees that those issues will be discussed in the press and the candidate's views will be recorded for posterity. For example, rather than the coverage of Mike Huckabee's sense of humour and personable nature, I'd like to see someone report that he does not believe in evolution, the founding principle of much of modern science.

Personally, for this debate to work, I think it should steer away from the standard science quagmires of global warming and stem cells.

Rather, I want to here about what the canidates think America's role is in the "technological revoloution" of today's world. I would like to see them discuss what science based branches of government should recieve the most funding. I would like to have them address what scientific groups and findings they consider credible, and I want to hear if they think that scientific research is trustworthy if funded by organizations with significant stakes in the results.

By T. "Chimpy" Greer (not verified) on 11 Dec 2007 #permalink

Instead of havin gthe candidates debate the science, perhaps it might make more sense to have each candidate designate the scientist that he/she would install as "Adviser to the President on Science" (a position currently held by John Marburger) and have these people debate the scientific issues.

After all, the job of President is not just -- or even primarily -- about knowing everything about every topic. It is (or at least is supposed to be) about "leadership": In other words, surrounding oneself with people who are knowledgeable and capable in the area in which they are expected to implement policy.

In fact, I would find value merely knowing before the election just whom a candidate had chosen as Science Adviser. That would probably say more than any debate ever would or even could.

By Dark Tent (not verified) on 12 Dec 2007 #permalink

Hilary Clinton has, by the way, already published talking points on working scientific oversight back into government.

And since she would have absolutely no power as President to carry out her talking points, that's all they're ever going to be.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 12 Dec 2007 #permalink