In which I repeat what I said two years ago, because it seems even more relevant now (when state budgets have throttled school budgets and the current U.S. President has identified education as a national priority):
Archive for the 'Governing' category
I was reading John Timmer's post on Ars Technica about the call for a presidential debate on science and technology and found myself surprised at how many of the commenters on the post think such a debate would be a terrible idea.
It's not just that the commenters think that the presidential candidates would use all their powers to weasel out of taking clear stands that might get them in trouble with one constituency or another. There are quite a few commenters who make variations of this argument:
I don't see this as being a very good idea. These people are POLITICIANS, not scientists. I do not want to see them debating issues they have little worthwhile knowledge. If elected, they should rely on their advisors, and more importantly, the SCIENTISTS themselves to determine scientific policy. Science should not be "up for political debate." Science should follow the scientific method. Having some sort of half-baked, pre-programmed, campaigning answers only politicizes science even more -- which is exactly what we should try to avoid.
The list of questions I have for presidential hopefuls is manifestly not an oral exam on anything the candidates might have learned in their science classes. (Not a single question on intermolecular forces, I swear!) But just to be clear:
In response to one of my science-related questions for the presidential candidates, Drugmonkey points out that the question might not work the way I want it to because of the chasm between science and politics:
"8. If sound scientific research were to demonstrate that one of your policy initiatives couldn't work (or couldn't work without tremendous cost in terms of money, health risk, negative environmental impact, etc.), what would you do?"
This almost, but not quite, hits the fundamental cultural problem between the two societies, science and politics. Your question should be reframed as "what if research were to demonstrate your policy hadn't worked in the first three years, then what would you do?". The problem is that political behavior is unfalsifiable. "My policy didn't work? Well, we just didn't do it enough. Let's do it more." Tax cuts or welfare, same deal. No testing, falsifying and moving on to something else because the data told us the policy was flawed. Even the slightest sign of this and someone is a "flip flopper".
I think Drugmonkey's diagnosis of the politician's MO is probably right. And, it occurs to me that this is the thing I hate most about politics-as usual. It's what makes me want to hold the candidates down and ask them for their stand on reality.
Science matters. It's hard to make good decisions in today's world that aren't somehow informed by sound science -- especially if you're the head of state of a country like the USA.
This means that it's important to know where the people lined up to get the job of President of the United States stand on science. Those of us deciding how to vote could use this information, and even you folks who are subject to US foreign policy have a significant interest in knowing what you'll be in for.
There ought to be a presidential debate focused on science and technology before the 2008 election. It's not just the bloggers who think so, either. A bunch of serious scientists support the idea, too.
Here are some big things I want to know about where presidential candidates stand on science -- the kinds of questions a science and technology debate might put on the table:
Apparently John Murtha lost his bid to be the new Majority Leader in the House of Representatives to Rep. Steny Hoyer. In the run up to this decision, Murtha was reported as saying the House ethics reforms being proposed by Nancy Pelosi were "total crap".
As you can imagine, that got my attention.
Below the fold, a bit of the transcript of Murtha's interview with Chris Matthews where Murtha tries to put his comment in context.