The science questions Obama and Romney need to answer

During the 2008 election, writer Shawn Otto lead a charge to get the presidential candidates to unambiguously and publicly explain their positions on key questions concerning science and public policy. The questions were chosen through a process that involved the general public, as well as scientists and engineers. Science Debate 2008 was intended to be a televised debate on PBS—but neither Barak Obama nor John McCain would agree to participate. Eventually, after a lot of pressure, the candidates finally answered the 14 questions ... but only in print, online. No follow-ups.

Now Science Debate is trying again, hoping to engage President Obama and Mitt Romney and get them to treat science with at least the kind of seriousness politicians give their religious beliefs. (The Republican primary, for instance, featured debates that were themed solely around the candidates' faiths.)

With the help of concerned citizens, scientists, engineers, and the nation's leading science and engineering organizations, Science Debate has put together a list of 14 questions for the 2012 presidential race.

2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

9. The Internet. The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society. What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?

You can read the rest of the questions at Once you've done that—if you agree this is important—sign the petition calling for the candidates to devote a debate to science and the ways that it will affect their public policy choices. These are important issues. We need to know what the candidates think if we're going to be fully informed voters. It's time to make science part of the political discourse.


  1. It seems to me that a Mormon and a black liberation Christian both have trouble discerning fact from fiction.  Why look to these two for anything resembling science?

    1. Because plenty of religious people are capable of recognizing the importance of science and acting on it. Just because I think their religious beliefs are silly doesn’t mean they’re idiots. 

      Seriously, stop it. You’re making us atheists look bad. 

      1. I reject the idea that people can successfully constrain their irrational tendencies to particular areas of life.  If you’re willing to believe crazy stuff, you’re willing to believe it.

        1. I reject the idea that you (or I, or anybody) can magically make ourselves free of irrational tendencies. You’re not Spock. The human brain is pretty irrational at times. All of us, to one degree or another, confine the irrational and hold ideas that should be (rationally) in conflict. You aren’t special.

          1. I tend to agree. For example, my observation is that all but the most hard-core atheists try to find some meaning in our existence. But, objectively, you really can’t. The universe will end, and that’s it. Happiness, sadness, pain, etc., are all fleeting chemical reactions in a biological “machine”.

            The point, really, is that we’re all irrational. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

      2. Question is, can a Republican Presidential candidate, circa 2012, act on the importance of science, even if he recognizes it, given that so much of his core constituency seems to actively reject it?

    2.  I think you’re conflating fact and science too easily, and too quickly setting up “fiction” as an opposing category.

      1. Funny, indeed, that it should come up at all.

        If you make a list of ways Obama is out of touch, and his theology itself makes the top ten, you’re likely bringing it up out of prejudice.

        If you make a list of ways Romney is out of touch, and his theology itself makes the top hundred, you’re likely bringing it up out of prejudice.

        What things they believe based on theology might be very important, of course – but that’s exactly what things like science debates are for finding out.

  2. “The Republican primary, for instance, featured debates that were themed solely around the candidates’ faiths.”

    What was: our 4,387th clue that the U.S. is swirling the drain, Alex.

    If someone actually gets the two major party candidates to have a debate on science topics, I will send $100 to the 501(c)3 of your choice, Maggie.  (A win-win proposition!)

    1. I’m personally more concerned about the trend that a dwindling number people are responsible for creating an ever-increasing share of the GDP. It doesn’t seem that either party is addressing this adequately. If we’re not productive (and hence, increasing our wealth), the chances of meaningful climate policy, etc., getting passed are close to nil.

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