Barack Obama Answers Science Debate 2008


In November, 2007, a small group of six citizens - two screenwriters, a physicist, a philosopher, and Chris and I - began working to restore science and innovation to America's political dialogue in an initiative called ScienceDebate2008. Within weeks, more than 38,000 scientists, engineers, and other concerned Americans signed on, including nearly every major American science organization, dozens of Nobel laureates, elected officials and business leaders, and the presidents of over 100 major American universities. Signers submitted over 3,400 questions and we worked with the leading organizations involved to craft the top 14 questions the candidates should answer.

Barack Obama is the first to step up to our challenge and John McCain has said he will answer as well.

i-93a2e61b97f249dbca485fb779dc7242-obamasenate.pngThe Senator from Illinois has responded comprehensively providing a glimpse into what an Obama-Biden administration would look like. Read his first answer below and all fourteen here.

1. Innovation. Science and technology have been responsible for half of the growth of the American economy since WWII. But several recent reports question America's continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will you support to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation?

Ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead the world in science and technology will be a central priority for my administration. Our talent for innovation is still the envy of the world, but we face unprecedented challenges that demand new approaches. For example, the U.S. annually imports $53 billion more in advanced technology products than we export. China is now the world's number one high technology exporter. This competitive situation may only worsen over time because the number of U.S. students pursuing technical careers is declining. The U.S. ranks 17th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; we were in third place thirty years ago.

My administration will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade. We will increase research grants for early-career researchers to keep young scientists entering these fields. We will increase support for high-risk, high-payoff research portfolios at our science agencies. And we will invest in the breakthrough research we need to meet our energy challenges and to transform our defense programs.

A vigorous research and development program depends on encouraging talented people to enter science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and giving them the support they need to reach their potential. My administration will work to guarantee to students access to strong science curriculum at all grade levels so they graduate knowing how science works - using hands-on, IT-enhanced education. As president, I will launch a Service Scholarship program that pays undergraduate or graduate teaching education costs for those who commit to teaching in a high-need school, and I will prioritize math and science teachers. Additionally, my proposal to create Teacher Residency Academies will also add 30,000 new teachers to high-need schools - training thousands of science and math teachers. I will also expand access to higher education, work to draw more of these students into science and engineering, and increase National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate fellowships. My proposals for providing broadband Internet connections for all Americans across the country will help ensure that more students are able to
bolster their STEM achievement.

Progress in science and technology must be backed with programs ensuring that U.S. businesses have strong incentives to convert advances quickly into new business opportunities and jobs. To do this, my administration will make the R&D tax credit permanent.

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Is America ready for a president who seems to have some clue about science and technology issues?

Science and technology are significant issues in our time, and obviously important to the Obama-Biden campaign. It's a very positive and encouraging response from them to all the citizens of the world.
Hopefully, the McCain-Palin team will respond shortly too.

It will be especially hard to take a McCain response seriously now that he's picked a global warming denier as VP....

He didn't really answer many of them: answers to 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9 were less than sufficient with him appearing to be inept when it comes to biology. Broad-gauged vaccines? This might work for parasites, but bacteria, fungi, and viruses really only have one or two stages by which to target for a vaccine and slight alterations to the DNA (or RNA) can make a vaccine completely useless depending on what is being targeted. His knowledge of science and technology seems limited to what he reads in the news, and as such, I am not impressed.

"Is America ready for a president who seems to have some clue about science and technology issues?"

Ask Jefferson (whom one would have to characterize and a scientist), Hoover (Metallurgical/mining engineer), Kennedy ("got it" with respect to space program), Carter (equivalent of M.S. at Naval Postgraduate School).

Yes, we have been ready for two and a half centuries. We are still ready.

Or you can vote McCain-Palin and have a dedicated daughter of a science teacher in the White House -- who thinks that Intelligent design should be taught in public schools. Has the choice ever been clearer?

Re Jonathan Vos Post

We might add Dwight Eisenhower and US Grant who I believe were civil engineers by training.

However, considering that Grant, Hoover, and Carter are considered among the worst presidents in American History, this doesn't inspire confidence in technically trained leaders.

Having said that, we should, perhaps see how Chancellor Merkel is doing in Germany as she is a PhD physicist. Maybe the scientists will do better then the engineers.

Kennedy got the political value of the space program first and foremost.

Lincoln has a patent, and arguably his use of the telegraph in the Civil War suggests a facility with then current technology that seems more consistent with what this community is agitated for than any of the others.

Wilson had a Ph.D., but seemed to suffer from the same technocratic impulses that sank Hoover.

By David Bruggeman (not verified) on 31 Aug 2008 #permalink

I am excited about the latest advances in human stem cell research where the patients OWN cells can be used to repair the medical conditions that they face. This approach has avoided the common problems of tissue rejection and cellular instability.


I don't know if those questions were sent out to the candidates by mail, or asked to them directly. If they were sent by mail, I'd be shocked, SHOCKED if Barak himself actually answered those questions. Most likely, someone from his staff did it.

Glad to see that he supports funding for nuclear energy research, which I hope includes fusion research. That's one of the most important issues for me.

Josh Charles--I wouldn't be that shocked, he's a smart man who was a law professor and cares about science. More to the point, however, so what? At least he's on top of it enough to hire good staff who answer quickly and correctly. Presumably he'll be listening to, and leading, those same people as he governs. We're electing a president, not a one-man administration.

I'm so glad to find this discussion. As a Jane Q Citizen I wasn't able to grade Obama's answers. Jared : you wrote "His knowledge of science and technology seems limited to what he reads in the news, and as such, I am not impressed." But what his answers did tell me was that Obama wants to push for more funding of science and technology, as well as teaching of STEM. That to me is the most important aspect. I don't expect any future president to be a scientist but I do expect him/her to know that our economy has to have a healthy scientific platform on which to work.

By Terry in Arizona (not verified) on 05 Sep 2008 #permalink

I agree with Terry in Arizona's comments. I also don't expect presidents to be scientists, but I expect them to be rational and to appreciate and encourage scientific thought and science education.

The political scene is about the honest upright Highly edjucated. Some people are doing telepathy like im to inteleigent I hope they dont use time travel toalter history all children are to ahve a seal of gov protection before the 1st year of life till 13 months after birth all the telepaths will be able to judge the kids snacther fantasy worlds out theirjust as they happen in thought crime sense . But they wont Kill them all God Judge The nations!!!