Key science and environmental questions to ask Obama, Romney

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Fifteen of the leading U.S. science and engineering organizations today released a list of 14 science policy questions that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney should be debating on the campaign trail.  There is one question on 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?”

Our comment follows the release.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—JULY 19, 2011

Organizations List Top Science & Environmental Questions

Obama, Romney Should Tackle

Fifteen of the top U.S. science and engineering organizations today released a list of the most important science policy questions that presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Mitt Romney should be debating on the campaign trail.  The group, organized by the non-profit grassroots science advocacy organization ScienceDebate.org, says that because science now affects every aspect of modern life, presidential candidates should develop and release their science positions earlier in a campaign.

The participating organizations include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geosciences Institute, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, The American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, The American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society of Chemical Engineering, the Council on Competitiveness, the US Institute of Electricians and Electronics Engineers, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, ScienceDebate.org, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.  ScienceDebate.org’s media partner for the project is Scientific American magazine.

“This should be a no-brainer at this point,” said Shawn Lawrence Otto, CEO of ScienceDebate.org and author of the book Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America.  “Candidates debate the economy even though they are not economists, foreign policy even though they’re not diplomats or generals, and faith and values even though they are not priests or pastors.  They should also be debating the big science questions that have equal or greater impact on voters’ lives.”

The list includes questions about innovation and the economy, climate change, energy, improving science education, protecting food and fresh water, requiring vaccinations, managing the Internet, competing in research, preventing pandemics, improving ocean health, exploring space, securing rare natural resources, and improving scientific integrity in the federal government.  It is available online at http://www.sciencedebate.org/questions.html

The group said the fourteen questions are the most important science questions the candidates and voters should consider in the 2012 election cycle.

ScienceDebate.org asked thousands of scientists, engineers and other supporters to submit questions online for a possible science debate to be held among the leading candidates.  The group then recruited the science and engineering organizations to help refine the questions and shape them into a fair and nonpartisan list.

Otto said the most impressive thing about the list is the universal consensus.  “The fact that these diverse science and engineering organizations came to a universal consensus shows just how important they feel it is that Americans – and the candidates for president – pay attention to these critical problems,” said Otto.

Otto said the group has asked the Obama and Romney campaigns the address the questions by mid August.

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Thanks to ScienceDebate.org and the science organizations for pulling together this list of questions on a set of profoundly important problems.  Wouldn’t it elevate the discourse during the campaign if voters held the candidates accountable for giving meaningful answers?  We don’t expect to see a staged debate on climate, energy, and ocean policy, and the like, but surely there must be a way to inject concerns about these problems into the campaign in such as way as to engage the candidates and draw out differences between them, where differences exist.

The wording of the questions is broad enough that, it seems to us, they likely leave the candidates a good deal of wiggle room to give broad, general answers. Thus, to make them serve voters most usefully, we think it won’t suffice merely to pose the questions to the candidates, get their responses, and publish the responses.  These questions really need to be posed by knowledgeable questioners who are in a position to ask well-focused follow-up questions when candidates give less-than-illuminating answers.

How might this be done? Perhaps, rather than trying to deal with the entire formidable list of questions at once, it calls for breaking them up and having organizations and communities concerned about particular questions seek to engage the candidates on them in a series of exchanges — thus sort of combining lofty science communication goals with some hard-nosed accountability questioning — with ScienceDebate.org and other organizations collaboratively calling attention to the results.

Earlier posts:

Sen. Kerry condemns climate disinformation campaign, challenges Washington’s “conspiracy of silence”

“Campaign 2012: Climate Change and Energy”

Still drunk on oil: Obama’s speech in Cushing

Hansen: It’s time for the politics to follow the science on global warming

End Polluter Welfare Act would eliminate more than $110 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry

“Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America”

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