Call for a Science Debate between Presidential Candidates on April 18

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The good folks over at ScienceDebate 2008 have issued a letter of invitation to the remaining presidential candidates to participate in a science policy debate on April 18 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, four days before the Pennsylvania primary. To wit:

Science and technology are responsible for half our nation's growth in GDP over the last half century, and have changed every aspect of our lives, our economy, our health, and our environment.

The next president of the United States will face unprecedented scientific and technological policy challenges and opportunities, three classes of which poll at the top of voter concerns: the economy and economic competitiveness; healthcare; and the environment. Candidates should have ideas about what kinds of policies will best address these issues, and should inform the voters of their views.

The debate may include such policy issues as: American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research; policy approaches to climate change; clean energy; the healthcare crisis; science education and technology in schools; scientific integrity; GM agriculture; transportation infrastructure; immigration; the genome; data privacy; intellectual property; pandemic diseases; the health of the oceans; water resources; stem cells; conservation and species loss; population; the space program, and others.

This is a policy debate.  It is not intended to be a science quiz. Nor are we interested in state-level battles such as the evolution versus creationism/ID debate.  Our goal is to find out how aware candidates are of America's major science and technology problems and opportunities, and how they propose to offer the kind of visionary leadership and policy solutions that will tackle those challenges and ensure America's place as the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation on earth.  This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are such a leader.

The ScienceDebate organizers say that the debate will be held even if only one candidate shows up.

This is a great idea.

Whole ScienceDebate 2008 letter of invitation here

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  1. Bad idea. I don’t want these people thinking they have even more say over the science field than they already do. I’d just as soon have the science and technology communities ignore them completely and move forward on their own.

  2. This is not a good thing. Scientists are typically ends driven, which is why we see so many “war on fat” “war on carbon” things based on science. To these people all they need is to identify a problem and they think that’s enough reason for the government to go charging full steam at the problem.

    And at the same time, I don’t want the government dictating to scientists and giving out hand outs even if they’re for technology. This isn’t a good thing on either side.

  3. The Healthcare crisis.

    I am not even sure to what this refers, but I don’t like the framing. Overall, such a debate might be a good idea, but I don’t like the idea of mixing science and health care policy.

  4. The healthcare crisis is not a scientific or technological problem other than we haven’t cured everything yet. In fact, one could argue we haven’t cured everything yet because of government interference. More government involvement will not cure people, but it will make it more difficult to people to get care from doctors and hospitals, even if the government pays for it.

  5. This is a great idea.

    No it isn’t. The problem with scientific debates, is you have to be well schooled in the science being debated to evaluate what’s being said.

    Scientific debates work very well when only scientists are having them. As soon as politicians become involved, it’s impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff. Scientists are as corruptible as anyone else. What makes scientific method work, is the understanding and agreement on how to gather and evaluate evidence. When the point of the debate changes from “forcing my opponent, who is well versed in the subject, to concede that I am right” to “convincing powerful people (perhaps by convincing large numbers of people, and in any case none of whom have a very deep understanding) to support me” it ceases to be science, and becomes advertising. The very antithesis of objectivity.

  6. I also agree that this is a dumb idea. Didnt you post about this earlier ron, with a comment by someone (Tierney?) that it’s silly to expect candidates to have much to offer here other than blandishments along the lines of the Farber College motto, “Knowledge is Good”?

    better, I think, to get the eventual nominees to debate specific policy proposals (like, what if anything should the government do about climate change, and how, exactly?)

    I dont think any of them will have “scientific” ideas that they’ll be held accountable to. Like, how much do you think we should invest in nuclear energy? Any? etc. If it’s all a broad array of topics, and there arent any specific acknowledgements of scientific details (e.g. are GMOs harmful or not?), then its going to be nothing but the same old posturing, albeit with some ‘science-y’ words thrown in

  7. LOL. This would be entertaining though!

    We could here them explain why the bible is good science and should be taught in school. Well, at the least the Rs.

  8. In related news:

    A new theory says that dark matter and dark energy could arise from a single dark fluid that permeates the whole universe.

    “A Single Dark Fluid”: either (a) WBAGNFAB, or (b) a nasty symptom of usually terminal disease.

    Yeah, ok, so I’m bored.

  9. (…and it looks like I killed the thread with that. My goodness, I’m toxic)

  10. I think you guys are being too stubborn. Yes, none of us like the government messing around with science or a lot of other things. But the fact remains that they do, and if they continue to do so, which they will, they should at least know what the heck they’re dealing with. Canceling a debate on science won’t stop them from interfering, but it will show us how aware they are on the issues, or not.

  11. Is there some rent-seeking index that the scientists are behind in?

  12. It’s a stupid idea and I’d rather see a debate on economics philosophies.

  13. Saying that this is a dumb idea because you think that you’ll disagree with the candidates on the proper role of the president in making many decisions involving science misses the point; debates are an opportunity for the candidates to tell us what they think that role is, and what their understanding of scientific issues is. I want to know what they all think causes global warming and what they want to do about it, and so should you, even if you don’t believe in global warming. Same for GM.

  14. How is this a great idea? How many of the candidates are scientists or remotely qualified to debate on the topic?

  15. How is this a great idea? How many of the candidates are scientists or remotely qualified to debate on the topic?

    In fairness, how many of the candidates are qualified to debate economics or war or managing the largest bureaucracy in the world?

  16. I think it’s a great idea.

    Since politicians ideas can translate into policy that effects the scientific community (and through that, all of us), it’s crucial to know what these folks think about science. Think creationism in the schools, the banning of evolution from schools, bans on cloning research, etc.

    OK, so you don’t like the government using funds to foster scientific research. But if they are going to use your tax dollars for this, wouldn’t you rather see them use it on the better research?

    “but I don’t like the idea of mixing science and health care policy.”

    Yeah, me like-um witch doctors too!

  17. Great idea.

    A primitive and hostile view of science (the GOP) vs. a pro-science freshman college view of science (any Dem) might inform one-half the electorate.

    And that is a good thing.

  18. I don’t recall any complaints about the non-economist candidates being asked to discuss economic policy.

    I don’t recall any complaints aboutt the non-career military candidates being asked to discuss war policy.

    I don’t recall any complaints about the non-carreer foreign-service candidates being asked to discuss foreign policy.

    I think it would be important and enlightening to find out where the candidates stand on issues related to scientific discovery, technology, and other science-related issues. But then, I don’t generally favor a party engaged in an active war on science.

  19. Mr. Nice Guy: Yeah, me like-um witch doctors too!

    Are you suggesting that there is no difference between the questions of funding medical research (science) and what, if anything we should do about America’s health care (health care policy)?

    I think the later would have no place in a debate about science, especially since those topics are already covered in the more traditional debates.

  20. Get the scientists working on the tube technology immediately…

  21. The problem is that when debate topics start hitting areas that the general public doesn’t understand and that the candidates don’t understand, the bull is almost overwhelming. Economics is a great example of that. I believe candidates do usually publish a science policy, especially a space policy, which almost never has anything to do with their actions in office.

    Speaking of government and science ignorance, is the Democrat-controlled Congress going to bring back the OTA?

  22. I’ve already proposed a format for a “public access”-style debate that even Reason could put on. Simply get experts on one field from *across the spectrum* and have them “cross examine” the candidates. If a candidate won’t show, use a stand-in of some kind (either a supporter or someone who’ll represent their views for the debate).

    The total tab for that would be around $10k with the studio and direct-to-Youtube with a transcript. It could even be done remotely, bloggingheads-style.

    Reason could put something like that on, but they won’t for… one reason or another.

  23. When candidates debate Health Care, they aren’t actually debating the best course of treatment for arteriosclerosis. They’re debating the issue of health care access and cost, and public policies that effect those issues.

    When the candidates debate the Economy, they aren’t actually debating the best way to control for population migration in an econometric model of how the decline of an industrial cluster effects income. They’re debating issues like the globalization of the economy and the public policy response to it.

    Similarly, in a Science debate, they’re not debating whether light is a particle or a wave, but issues and policies that relate to scientific discoveries.

    So “they’re not experts in science” isn’t really much of a reason to oppose such a debate.

  24. The problem with this idea is ensconced in the very first sample policy issue for the debate: “American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research.”

    Giving a platform to presidential candidates specifically to debate science issues gives them an arena where they will compete with each other over how much government largess each will pour into science and technology interests — constituencies which are, incidentally, among the wealthiest in the nation.

    It’s the practical equivalent of having a debate solely about agriculture.

  25. Mike P, then candidates could use such a debate to argue that their laissez-faire position is best for promoting scientific inquiry, and that their school-choice position is best for promoting science education. Conservatives certainly aren’t shy about arguing for non-programs during debates of the economy.

  26. Yes semm science cannot tell us what values to prioritize in policy debates, but they can tell us about empirical realities that will often provide important premises for the syllogisms we use in making policy arguments…And willful scientific ingorance can lead to policy disasters (see Lysenko).

  27. Conservatives certainly aren’t shy about arguing for non-programs during debates of the economy.

    Non-programs when faced with government-directed industrial policies, sure.

    But give them a chance to shower money all over their favorite industries for the purpose of “American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research,” and all bets are off.

  28. Conservatives certainly aren’t shy about arguing for non-programs during debates of the economy.

    Stimulus plan?
    84-16 in the senate.
    380-34 in the house. And 6 of the no’s were democrats.

  29. Is nuclear power environmentally safer than continuing to build and operate coal fired plants?

    Should tax dollars be used to provide Medicare and Medicais recipients access to alternative medicine?

    Is continuing mannned space missions an effective use of tax dollars or should NASA be doing something else?

    Is globasl warming real? Is it anthropogenic? How much are you willing to spend in dollars and productivity losses to combat it?

    Superfund, Expand it? Reduce it? Kill it?

    Do you support the presernt levels of biofuel research assistance and price support?

    There are many science related policy questions that could be explored. The above is top of the head stuff, I’m sure that reasonoids could greatly expand it.

    And the candidates won’t attend. They are more concerned with policies that make folks feel good than making rational policy decisions. That’s one of the negatives that comes with democracy.

  30. Kolohe,

    The subject of this thread is debates.

  31. I like the idea of a science debate, but do not see how it would go beyond the usual soundbytes and polemics – unless their is exquisite moderation of the type unknown in modern journalism.

  32. Music is important too. I want them to debate whether Elvis was really the King.

  33. J sub D, I don’t think the questions will be phrased as you have shown. I think it will be more like “what will you do about global warming?” “How much will you spend on….everything on this here list?”

  34. Well, they debated the plan on the floors of both houses right? And the only thing I saw was a debate of how much stuff from each sides favorite hobby horses to cram in there. I do not recall, or at least there was no press coverage of, *anyone* conservative or otherwise, arguing to do nothing. (various elements of the blogosphere excepted)

  35. Giving a platform to presidential candidates specifically to debate science issues gives them an arena where they will compete with each other over how much government largess each will pour into science and technology interests

    Incidentally, I notice a curious lack of any disclaimer after the assertion that “This is a great idea” from Reason’s Science Correspondent.

    Will we next see Reason’s Agriculture Correspondent praising or proposing a debate solely about agriculture?

    Actually, I think I see the machinations behind it all. The candidates will stumble over each other proposing the most awful, illiberal, rent seeking policies ostensibly based on science and technology that can be imagined, and in the process offer up months of fodder for critical libertarian writing.

    Well played, Mr. Bailey… Well played.

  36. Kolohe,

    I like the idea of a science debate, but do not see how it would go beyond the usual soundbytes and polemics – unless their is exquisite moderation of the type unknown in modern journalism.

    It probably wouldn’t. It would probably be like all of the other sound-bite and polemic-laden debates, except the subject matter would be more scientific.

    A modest wish, to be sure.

  37. I think it would be important and enlightening to find out where the candidates stand on issues related to scientific discovery, technology, and other science-related issues. But then, I don’t generally favor a party engaged in an active war on science.

    Hyperbolize much?

    The percentage of Democrats in Congress who voted for the war in Iraq is larger than the percentage of GOP Prez candidates who didn’t believe in evolution when asked at that one debate. Would it be fair to say that the Dems were actively engaged in support for the war?

    As for embryonic stem cell research, the issue there isn’t support for science and you know it.

  38. Chris Potter,

    I took the line “war on science” from the series of blog posts Ron Bailey wrote using the same name.

    I don’t every hyperbolize. I am the most un-hyperbolizing person that has ever existed in the entire universe.

  39. Whoever originated the phrase, your implication was that one of the parties to which you don’t belong is actively engaged in a war on science. And I’m guessing you weren’t referring to the Prohibition Party.

  40. All remaining presidential candidates? Great, we get to see Alan Keyes involved too…

  41. Oh. I just checked the link. Only candidates with 15% in the national polls were invited.

  42. Only candidates with 15% in the national polls were invited.

    Scientific polls? Are their results open to debate?

  43. Whoever originated the phrase, your implication was that one of the parties to which you don’t belong is actively engaged in a war on science.

    Yes, as were the blog posts I was referring to, and with quite a bit of evidence to back that proposition up.

    Why don’t you look them up, and then tell me how incredibly unfair it is to character the Republican Party as being at war with science?

  44. Lemme give you a hint, Chris: the issue of global warming never came up. Bailey was able to get an entire series of blog posts out of the subject “The Republican War on Science” without even brining up their suppression of global warming reports.

    Think about that.

  45. Hi,

    The candidates may not be P.H.D. but it lets us see values, thoughts and stand on important issues. Is global warming a technology issue to be solved econmonicly, politically, technologicaly or what?

    While the World health organization has pushed the pandemic message only CDC, HHS, OSHA and DoD keep testing plans. Yet a pandemic will push technology and people.

    To me it is important that a candidate valued basic science that does not have a market potential yet.

    Yes to the debate. Lets hear what they say on H5N1, avian influenza, as well as other issues.

    Regards
    Kobie
    “Everything I know never changed my mind as much as the one thing I did not” – Kobie

  46. Chris Potter,

    Those comments came out more dickish than intended. Peace.

  47. Ron Paul is easily the most scientifically literate candidate in both parties.

  48. Yes, Rick, I’m sad that Gore didn’t run, too.

  49. American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research; policy approaches to climate change; clean energy; the healthcare crisis; science education and technology in schools; scientific integrity; GM agriculture; transportation infrastructure; immigration; the genome; data privacy; intellectual property; pandemic diseases; the health of the oceans; water resources; stem cells; conservation and species loss; population; the space program, and others.

    You could replace all this with, “Explain how the scientific method works.” Unfortunately, that’s an essay question and therefore beyond the capability of most politicians.

    Or you could go the other direction and ask,

    If you have 117 people, where:
    42% of them vote,
    18 of the voters vote Republican, 2 Libertarian, 16 Democrat, and the remainder other,
    They are 48% White, 22% Black, 28% Hispanic, 10% Oriental, 5% Native American, and the rest Multiracial,
    47 own at least one firearm, 36 own more than one,
    4% are felons,
    48% are female, 40% male, 10% other,
    23 are left-handed,
    85% are Christian, 22 attend church regularly,
    71% have moved in the past five years, and
    19 read science fiction, then
    What percentage are above average?

    and watch their heads explode.

  50. Of course, they have decided to exclude one of the five remaining major-party candidates due to their arbitrary definition of “viability”: Ron Paul. Maybe with the news that Ralph Nader is running, they should extend invitations to both Ron Paul and Ralph Nader…at least then we’d get some actual different views about science policy (aka, a debate).

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