Nature Asks Barack Obama The Tough Questions On Science Policy
    By Hank Campbell | September 29th 2008 12:46 PM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Leave it to a British publication to finally come out and ask a question that similar US organizations have sought to avoid; namely whether or not Intelligent Design should be taught in school.

    US presidential candidate Barack Obama took up Nature's invitation to reply to some questions on science policy. McCain declined. Both candidates responded to questions presented by ScienceDebate 2008 but, surprisingly, the topic of evolution was not addressed in that. Fish hatcheries apparently being more important than science education in schools.

    Macmillan Publishers Ltd.-owned Nature doesn't have the same political origin as Science Debate so their questions leaned a little less toward the liberal skew and a little more toward plain old science, namely in questions like 'should intelligent design be taught in school?' and 'will you fix the visas so we aren't educating scientists here and making them go back to their countries of origin?' Nature does not completely lack for 'framing' - nowhere does Democrat Joe Biden, Obama's VP, get a mention but Sarah Palin's opinions on science are used as qualifiers twice, even though they are at odds with McCain, the actual person who would be president.

    I can't say I'm a fan of using actual responses from Obama and then using responses extracted from prior McCain statements plus conjecture about his VP in lieu of actual responses but that was their editorial decision. I think Obama is pandering to his hard left wing base a little bit in his hesitance about nuclear power but for the most part his responses are what we want from a president in a scientifically competitive 21st century.

    He has put a hard number in a campaign promise, something McCain has not (on the contrary, cutting spending is part of McCain's campaign, so forcing all branches of government to be more efficient would likely mean an end to the spending increases NASA and the NIH had under Bush) and both are fans of the ridiculous 'cap and trade' placebo for reducing greenhouse gases. Both candidates support lifting the ban on human embryonic stem cell research (thus my annoyance at Nature interjecting Palin's opinion on the matter yet never mention Biden's disagreement with Obama on oil drilling, for example) whereas McCain is clearly ahead of Obama when it comes to supporting space science.

    On visas for scientists, Obama makes it a 9/11 terrorism issue, which is annoying spin. Visas were reduced as a protectionist scheme by the Clinton administration, supposedly to boost the competitiveness of Americans by reducing foreigners. Obviously this has resulted in more offshoring and Bush was ill-informed enough on the topic to continue that policy. Obama doesn't look like he will see the wisdom of immigration in a way that McCain does but campaign statements don't really tell us a lot about what actual actions will be taken.

    I am betting that reality will cause both candidates to move a little more toward the middle than anything they say to get elected. In other words, I don't see anything that would make me alarmed about either candidate, despite the efforts by political operatives to mobilize constituents by saying either science or the culture will be ruined if the other guy gets elected.


    Hatice Cullingford
    Thank you for a helpful summary. One could complete a matrix of candidate pre-election positions at this time from your article and follow the trends to come. You did heck of a job here, Hank. Thanks :)
    Hatice Cullingford
    You mentioned nuclear power. I would like add what was reported in the news on alternative energy and green jobs in reference to 4.2 million new green energy jobs in 2038 per a new U.S. Congress of Mayors study:* Democratic nominee Barack Obama predicts investments in a "clean energy economy" over the next 10 years "will help the private sector create 5 million new green jobs" — a more ambitious projection than outlined by the study provided the mayors. GOP rival John McCain's energy blueprint makes no specific job growth forecast but declares development of green jobs and green technology "vital to our economic future." (*)
    It depends on what you want to believe. How can a government official create 5 million new jobs in the private> sector? Only by subsidy and mandate at taxpayer expense. This is how we got stuck with ethanol - the feel-good, green energy solution of 1987-2005. The government got told for 18 years (by Al Gore, no less) that ethanol was perfect and now we are stuck with billions of dollars in subsidies and mandates and higher food prices - but it 'created jobs' if you just put ethanol in a bubble.

    If one guy makes up a number to appeal to his base (and says 'the rich' will pay for it) and one does not (because he says he believes in lower taxes) the statement that impresses people is more dictated by who they already intend to vote for.

    If 'green jobs' are nuclear power, McCain is much clearer than Obama. If 'green jobs' is just made up future science that industry will magically agree to pay for, then Obama is better.

    Hatice Cullingford
    And believe whom? Apparently the poor and the rich believe similarly and children know what is really going on politically. I mention these: ~ Physicists' energy report gave the job on energy efficiency mostly to the government. ~ If Al Gore is the one to do the ethanol scene, he and/or his party should be popular in rural America because: Economic Impact of the Demand for Ethanol, conducted by Dr. Michael Evans, Professor of Economics at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, concluded that in 1997 alone the ethanol program increased net farm income by $4.5 billion.(1) I heard this morning McCain is the rural candidate now. ~ Green nuclear? Sure. ~ Jobs and economy will pay for future science. A nationwide consumer analysis concluded that consumers will pay an additional $5.4 billion a year in the absence of the ethanol tax incentive:(2) Consumers will pay $3 billion more in higher gasoline costs, including a $500 million tax increase on federal gas taxes; Household income will fall by $2.9 billion; and 120,600 Americans will lose their jobs. (1) (2) ibid
    A nationwide consumer analysis concluded that consumers will pay an additional $5.4 billion a year in the absence of the ethanol tax incentive:(2) Consumers will pay $3 billion more in higher gasoline costs, including a $500 million tax increase on federal gas taxes; Household income will fall by $2.9 billion; and 120,600 Americans will lose their jobs.

    Lobbyists for the ethanol industry are in the spin business, not concern for society. It is baffling that not paying money to subsidize ethanol in order to get its cost down to the same as gasoline would somehow make the gasoline more expensive instead. That's without the residual food cost increases that have occurred and the cleanup costs from environmental impacts, which are greater than gasoline.

    I can find cigarette lobbyists who write reports saying that taxes would also go up if cigarettes did not exist because of the tax revenue they pay. This does not make cigarettes good for society.

    Unless gas is $6 a gallon, ethanol loses money and does nothing for the environment. The government requires its use by law and also subsidizes it, which means they make it unfairly competitive by mandating it and then they make taxpayers pay to subsidize it and then taxpayers have to pay tax on it again at the gas pump. Corn farmers, ethanol producers and lobbyists are the only groups benefitting from it.

    Hatice Cullingford
    "Concern for society" Beware Big Ethanol, too? What's a consumer to do? Say they're losing money Due to Hurricane Ike(y) I know, I know Geek Logik, Makes it a simple rescue.