The Candidates Talk Science

Yesterday, I mentioned how important it is to pay attention to what a candidate promises, because those promises are often kept. If you haven’t already, it’s time to go see what the presidential candidates had to say about the top science and technology issues they’ll likely face over the next four years.

Pay attention to how they say science shapes their policies, not just how many words each of them spends on a question. Pay attention to whether they make reality their priority. If you have the knowledge, pay attention to whether they make promises they can’t keep or are telling you they haven’t bothered to study yet. For example, see Romney on space exploration:

America has enjoyed a half-century of leadership in space, but now that leadership is eroding despite the hard work of American industry and government personnel. The current purpose and goals of the American space program are difficult to determine. With clear, decisive, and steadfast leadership, space can once again be an engine of technology and commerce. It can help to strengthen America’s entrepreneurial spirit and commercial competitiveness, launch new industries and new technologies, protect our security interests, and increase our knowledge.

Rebuilding NASA, restoring U.S. leadership, and creating new opportunities for space commerce will be hard work, but I will strive to rebuild an institution worthy of our aspirations and capable once again leading the world toward new frontiers. I will bring together all the stakeholders – from NASA and other civil agencies, from the full range of national security institutions, from our leading universities, and from commercial enterprises – to set goals, identify missions, and define the pathway forward.

The ScienceDebate team started out by advocating for a live debate on these issues back in 2008. I personally prefer this sort of statement from the campaigns. I don’t need my president to be able to deliver a mini lecture on demand, but I do need to know how they relate to the issues raised by science and what role it has in their administration. The answers to these questions go a long way toward telling me what I need to know.

The Candidates Talk Science
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9 thoughts on “The Candidates Talk Science

  1. 1

    I also prefer the written format to a debate.

    I kind of admire Romney’s writers for figuring out fourteen different ways to say ‘Obama bad, deregulate private industry.’

  2. 2

    From Romney’s response: “The current purpose and goals of the American space program are difficult to determine.”

    Uh, it’s pretty spelled out if you go to

    That wasn’t too hard.

  3. 3

    For any issue, I’d rather see a well-thought out, written proposal. Debates are mostly about who can work the crowd better or who can spit out easily memorized soundbytes fast enough.

    All said, I thought Romney on science was just two paragraphs of vague, convoluted language and buzzwords which manages to say almost nothing. It’s closer to the type of response I’d expect from someone *in person* where they try to conceal their lack of knowledge by talking a lot, and hoping people mistake that for an intelligent response. It reads like a junior high school essay response on “write about our space program.”

    I mean, is our space program in decline? What about the Mars rover we just landed?

  4. 4

    From Romney’s response: “The current purpose and goals of the American space program are difficult to determine.”

    He means it’s not making money for him right now.

  5. 6

    Looks like they both evaded quesiton #14 (the one about enforcing vaccination). Obama just talked about availability of vaccines via ACA and Romney about entrepreneurship innovation blah blah blah, and neither actually discussed the problem of communities which spurn vaccination by choice.

  6. 7

    Did I read the same article as everyone thus far? Stephanie, your post implies that Obama comes off much better than Romney here, and the commenters seem to agree. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the angles from which Romney has framed these issues and responded to them, but it doesn’t seem in the least accurate to imply that he hasn’t bothered to study the problems. The opposite seems to be true to me: he has outlined, rather specifically, what he feels the cruxes of some of these issues are, and has detailed what he feels might be the best solutions. On the other hand, many of Obama’s answers seemed disappointingly fluffy and lacking in substance to me.

    Disagreeing with Romney’s assessments and plans and critically dismantling them is one thing, but it strikes me as slightly lazy to dismiss him as if he had nothing to say at all. Are we so blinded by dislike for the man that we award points to Obama simply for showing up?

  7. 9

    I did, Stephanie, and then I went over to the Scientific American article you linked to read the candidates’ responses in full. Perhaps I am reading something into your post specifically that wasn’t there, but I do think my comment still accurately reflects the attitude in the other comments here, particularly the one @ #5 which says “The most telling thing about this was how Obama answered the questions and Romney complained about Obama.” I apologize if I mis-characterized your original post.

    If I am reading you correctly, then, my impression is that you feel Obama has demonstrably permitted science to “shape some of [his] policies,” to use your words. This is probably true. Romney, on the other hand, answers many of these questions from a business angle, as might be expected. I don’t think, though, that approaching the issues thusly necessarily negates the validity of his arguments. Most of his responses speak to a view that the private sector is more valuable than the public, so while that supposition is certainly up for debate, it’s still not inherently anti-science, just kind of short-sighted to issues with academia and the public sector. I know I am a few days late to this post; I suppose I was hoping to see more in the comments that debated Romney’s actual points. As I implied earlier, though, I don’t think it’s enough to just critique Romney. I think we also need to critique Obama, particularly since most of his answers follow a “This is important. I’ve done/tried to do this. Hopefully it will work. More needs to be done” pattern, without actually delving into what more needs to be done, or how well his policies have worked thus far. For me, saying “I have invested [x] billion and we hope to see a return of [>x] billion” is insufficient consideration of future planning.

    Again, sorry if I was responding to something in your post that wasn’t there. But if the Democrats and Obama are meant to be the pro-science party, I want to hold them to that, and not simply accept that whatever they are saying is better than what the Republicans are saying. Because that may be kind of a low standard, no?

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