Scientists Push Presidential Candidates for Positions on Science
A Who's Who of America's top scientists are launching a quixotic last-minute effort this week to force presidential candidates to detail the role science would play in their administrations -- a question they say is key to the future of the country, if not the world.
"Right now we have a confluence of issues facing candidates: embryonic stem cell research, global warming, science and technology education, biotechnology and energy policy -- it's just becoming an avalanche," says Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor at Case Western University, and author of the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek. "I think at some level, you have to get some insight into what the candidates know, or what they're willing to learn."
Behind the call is a growing fear that the United States is falling behind in science and technology education, and that a leader who is scientifically illiterate won't be able to keep the United States ahead in the global economy.
The candidates did not respond immediately, but most of the Democratic contenders for the White House have released science policies. And Sen. Hillary Clinton has repeatedly slammed the Bush administration's science record.
Republican candidates can be forgiven for not immediately responding to the call for a dialog on science. Iowa front-runners Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee were busy sparring this week over whether Romney believes Satan and Jesus Christ are brothers -- a relatively obscure doctrine of Romney's Mormon faith.
In a May televised debate, three of the Republican candidates -- Huckabee, Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback (who has since dropped from the race) -- indicated that they don't believe in evolution.
Against this backdrop, the push for a science debate might look like a partisan dig at a devolving GOP, a perception bolstered by the list of signatories. These include Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, and attorneys Eric Rothschild and Stephen G. Harvey, the two lawyers who won a 2005 landmark legal challenge of a Pennsylvania school district board's decision to teach "intelligent design" as an alternative theory to evolution.
But also on board are 11 Nobel laureates in science, the editor of Scientific American, the president of Princeton University, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and other academic luminaries in the field. Krauss calls the drive bi-bipartisan, noting the inclusion of Norm Augustine, the retired CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Richard Garwin, who was on the White House's Science Advisory Committee under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Minnesota Republican congressman Jim Ramstad is also on the list.
That so many scientists are involved is a sign of the times, says Al Teich, the American Association for the Advancement of Science's director of policy.
"I think scientists are more political now than they have been in a long time," says Teich. "I think it's mostly as a result, not of neglect, but of having many aspects of science ignored in the current administration's statements and policies, and the editing of scientific reports by junior officials in the White House."
Recent polls show that much of America still believes in creationism. But they also show that the majority of voters don't care whether a candidate believes in evolution or not. A June USA Today Gallup Poll found that 54 percent of Americans surveyed said that it would make no difference to them if a presidential candidate said that they don't believe in the theory of evolution. And 70 percent of those surveyed said that a candidate's view on evolution wasn't relevant.
But that's precisely the point, notes Krauss. A candidate's position should matter because it undergirds so much of the science-driving policy; bad science leads to bad decisions. He equates not believing in evolution to not believing in the laws of gravity.
"What we need to do is raise the public discourse so that (not believing in evolution) is not an acceptable statement," he says.
Is there any hope for this country?
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)
The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.