McCain Answers ScienceDebate 2008's 14 Questions on Scitech Policy


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 Democratic and Republican presidential candidates agreed to provide answers to the questions online. About two weeks ago, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) did so. Now, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has weighed in with his answers. ScienceDebate 2008 lines both up side by side with Obama's replies in blue type and McCain's in red type. 

A few highlights from McCain's replies are below:

(1) On innovation: 

As President, I will…

•    Fund basic and applied research in new and emerging fields such as nanotechnology and biotechnology, and in greater breakthroughs in information technology;

•    Promote greater fiscal responsibility by improving the scientific and engineering management within the federal government;

•    Encourage and facilitate commercialization of new innovations, especially those created from federally funded research;

•    Ensure U.S. leadership in space by promoting an exploration agenda that will combine the discoveries of our unmanned probes with new technologies to take Americans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond….

(2) On climate change: 

…The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington.  Good stewardship, prudence, and simple commonsense demand that we act to meet the challenge, and act quickly.

To dramatically reduce carbon emissions, I will institute a new cap-and-trade system that over time will change the dynamic of our energy economy.  By the year 2012, we will seek a return to 2005 levels of emissions, by 2020, a return to 1990 levels, and so on until we have achieved at least a reduction of sixty percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050….

(8) On stem cells: 

While I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, I believe clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress. Moreover, I believe that recent scientific breakthroughs raise the hope that one day this debate will be rendered academic. I also support funding for other research programs, including amniotic fluid and adult stem cell research which hold much scientific promise and do not involve the use of embryos.  I oppose the intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes and I voted to ban the practice of "fetal farming," making it a federal crime for researchers to use cells or fetal tissue from an embryo created for research purposes. 

(11) On space exploration:

…I understand the importance of investments in key industries such as space to the future of our national security, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, and national pride as a technological leader. Although the general view in the research community is that human exploration is not an efficient way to increase scientific discoveries given the expense and logistical limitations, the role of manned space flight goes well beyond the issue of scientific discovery and is reflection of national power and pride.

History provides some guide to this. In 1971, when the Nixon Administration was looking at canceling the Apollo program and not approving the development of the Space Shuttle—then Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Casper Weinberger stated that such a policy: "would be confirming in some respects a belief that I fear is gaining credence at home and abroad: That our best years are behind us, that we are turning inward, reducing our defense commitments, and voluntarily starting to give up our super-power status and our desire to maintain world superiority." Three and a half decades later this seems equally valid, if not more so given the increased number of countries that are making significant investments in space….

Both candidates' full answers to all 14 ScienceDebate 2008 questions can be found here.

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