Obama Answers ScienceDebate 2008's 14 Scitech Policy Questions


ScienceDebate 2008 is a group of scientists and other concerned citizens who tried to promote a formal debate on science and technology policy issues between presidential candidates during the primary season. Once the primaries ended, ScienceDebate hoped to persuade the two major party candidates to engage in such a public debate. They declined.

However, both Obama and McCain agreed to answer 14 questions formulated by ScienceDebate 2008. Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama has now done that. Some snippets from Obama's answers below:

(1) On innovation:

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… 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. 

(2) On climate change:

There can no longer be any doubt that human activities are influencing the global climate and we must react quickly and effectively. First, the U.S. must get off the sidelines and take long-overdue action here at home to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions. We must also take a leadership role in designing technologies that allow us to enjoy a growing, prosperous economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050… I will implement a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. I will start reducing emissions immediately by establishing strong annual reduction targets with an intermediate goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. A cap- and-trade program draws on the power of the marketplace to reduce emissions in a cost- effective and flexible way. I will require all pollution credits to be auctioned.

(8) On stem cells:

Stem cell research holds the promise of improving our lives in at least three ways—by substituting normal cells for damaged cells to treat diabetes, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, heart failure and other disorders; by providing scientists with safe and convenient models of disease for drug development; and by helping to understand fundamental aspects of normal development and cell dysfunction.

For these reasons, I strongly support expanding research on stem cells. I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations.

(12) On scientific integrity:

I will restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best- available, scientifically-valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees.

(140 On health:

It's wrong that America's health care system works better for insurance and drug companies than it does for average Americans, who face skyrocketing health care costs. My plan makes health care more secure and affordable by strengthening employer-based coverage, protecting patients' ability to choose their own doctors, and saving families $2,500 dollars by requiring insurance companies to cover prevention and limiting excessive insurance company charges. My plan covers everybody by requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, providing tax credits to small businesses and working families, and covering all uninsured children. 

Obama's full answers to all 14 questions are available at ScienceDebate 2008 here.  McCain has promised to answer all 14 questions in the future. 

I will be participating in a panel discussion at the University of Mississippi on September 18 on the topic: "U.S. Science Policy: What Should be on the President's Agenda?" My fellow panelists are bioethicist and editor of Science Progress Jonathan Moreno, and Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science.