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What Do Obama and Romney Know about Science? And Why It Matters

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Image: League of Women Voters

Scientific American is partnering with the folks at and more than a dozen leading science and engineering organizations to try to inject more discussion about critical science issues into the U.S. presidential election campaign this year. As part of that effort, we will be asking the two main presidential candidates—Barack Obama and Mitt Romney—to respond to 14 questions (listed below) on some of the biggest scientific and technological challenges facing the U.S. in the near future. We will grade the candidates’ answers in the November magazine issue of Scientific American—as well as give you the opportunity to provide your own assessments (or take issue with ours) on the web.

Why is Scientific American taking this step? If you look beyond the made-up controversies that seem to dominate political discussion these days to the real issues—the real challenges, threats and opportunities that the U.S. faces today, tomorrow and for the rest of the century—you’ll find that most of them require a better grasp of some key scientific question or research field. Sometimes the link is obvious—as with global climate change. Other times it becomes clear only upon reflection—as with creating new avenues of economic innovation (just what do you think has fueled a substantial amount of the growth in the US economy for the past sixty years?)

The point is, as informed citizens, we need to know how the presidential candidates expect to address the basic scientific issues that are so vital to our country’s and our planet’s future—and that their policies will be based on sound science. The best showcase for such a discussion would be a live debate between the candidates dedicated entirely to scientific issues.

As a starting point, more than a dozen scientific and engineering organizations—ranging from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to the Union of Concerned Scientists—have come up with what they see as the top science questions facing the US in 2012. The questions are now being sent to the presidential campaigns. In addition, Scientific American will contact key leaders in Congress who play major roles in determining how scientific knowledge is translated into policy with a subset of these questions that are most applicable to the legislative branch of government for their response.

So take a look at the following questions (also available at and let us know via your comments what you think of both the questions and whether you would like to see the presidential candidates’ take part in a debate devoted to the scientific issues that underlie key economic, foreign policy and education issues.

1. Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?

2. 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?

3. Research and the Future. Federally funded research has helped to produce America’s major postwar economies and to ensure our national security, but today the UK, Singapore, China, and Korea are making competitive investments in research.  Given that the next Congress will face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in research in your upcoming budgets?

4. Pandemics and Biosecurity. Recent experiments show how Avian flu may become transmissible among mammals. In an era of constant and rapid international travel, what steps should the United States take to protect our population from emerging diseases, global pandemics and/or deliberate biological attacks?

5. Education. Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st.  In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?

6. Energy. Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet the demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

7. Food. Thanks to science and technology, the United States has the world’s most productive and diverse agricultural sector, yet many Americans are increasingly concerned about the health and safety of our food.  The use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, as well as animal diseases and even terrorism pose risks.  What steps would you take to ensure the health, safety and productivity of America’s food supply?

8. Fresh Water. Less than one percent of the world’s water is liquid fresh water, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of U.S. and global fresh water is now at risk because of increasing consumption, evaporation and pollution.  What steps, if any, should the federal government take to secure clean, abundant fresh water for all Americans?

9. The Internet. The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society.  What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?

10. Ocean Health. Scientists estimate that 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline, habitats like coral reefs are threatened, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What role should the federal government play domestically and through foreign policy to protect the environmental health and economic vitality of the oceans?

11. Science in Public Policy. We live in an era when science and technology affect every aspect of life and society, and so must be included in well-informed public policy decisions.  How will you ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are fully informed by the best available scientific and technical information, and that the public is able to evaluate the basis of these policy decisions?

12. Space. The United States is currently in a major discussion over our national goals in space.  What should America’s space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?

13. Critical Natural Resources. Supply shortages of natural resources affect economic growth, quality of life, and national security; for example, China currently produces 97% of rare earth elements needed for advanced electronics.   What steps should the federal government take to ensure the quality and availability of critical natural resources?

14. Vaccination and Public Health. Vaccination campaigns against preventable diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough depend on widespread participation to be effective, but in some communities vaccination rates have fallen off sharply. What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and in what circumstances should exemptions be allowed?

Update (Sept. 5, 2012): Click to see the answers to the top 14 science questions from Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Election 2012 button used under Creative Commons license BY 2.0.

About the Author: Christine Gorman is the editor in charge of health and medicine features for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Follow on Twitter @cgorman.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Comments 53 Comments

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  1. 1. TTLG 12:43 pm 07/19/2012

    Funny how question #2 was watered down to make it more acceptable for a Republican to answer.

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  2. 2. fyngyrz 12:44 pm 07/19/2012

    Can we *finally* talk about the magic underwear, the idea that Amerinds are “the lost tribe of Israel”, Joseph Smith’s “magic hattery” and multiple failed predictions, the exclusion of women as priests (that should ring a warning bell for you ladies), and the rest of the Mormon cult craziness?

    Not that the ridiculous mythology that underlies Christianity is better, but at least with a declared Christian president, we can nurse the hope that it’s all a sham to keep the superstitious majority quiet… with Mormonism, you know you have an actual crackpot on your hands and there’s just no way you can fool yourself about it.

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  3. 3. Christine Gorman 12:51 pm 07/19/2012

    Re TTLG, I didn’t write the questions so I can’t say directly, but I do know that these questions were all designed to be asked in a non-partisan way. The subject matter is too important to give anyone an easy out for ducking questions that are deemed “too political.”

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  4. 4. EcoTox 12:52 pm 07/19/2012

    Excellent questions! It’s so incredibly important that science issues be discussed and addressed!

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  5. 5. sjn 1:08 pm 07/19/2012

    Once again, avoiding the most basic issues. If our Federal support for scientific endeavors is so critical, how do we continue to completely ignore the most basic funding priorities: once we take out the NIH budget, somewhere between 60-70% of our federal R&D budget is devoted to military R&D.
    Then taking out the NASA budget, you are looking at all the above concerns competing for the final 20% or so of Federal R&D spending

    How can most basic issue of prioritization continue to be camouflaged in silence and ignorance?

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  6. 6. Christine Gorman 1:17 pm 07/19/2012

    sjn: I think your concern is covered in question #3 on “Research and the Future”

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  7. 7. CPRitter 1:33 pm 07/19/2012

    It is too bad that the questions won’t be answered by the candidates themselves but rather by advisors who will sanitize them for the masses. Also the questions don’t really probe their knowledge of science itself but rather their policy. So the headline is misleading and the question it asks will not be answered.

    The electorate has an interest in knowing the extent of the candidates’ grasp of in this case, science, but also [economics, law, foreign policy, etc] so we can judge their ability to make wise decisions. We need to hear directly from the candidates, not from advisors or aides.

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  8. 8. krohleder 1:44 pm 07/19/2012

    As far as climate change I do not subscribe to the notion that there is only one solution like cap-and-trade; which may in fact be riddled with problems. However a candidate must at least be aware of the fact that the overwhelming majority of scientist accept the multiple lines of supporting evidence for human caused global warming. Multiple lines of overwhelming evidence in multiple fields of study. It now supported and accepted. It has been for some time now. Even the public is slowly moving towards acceptance, which is now the majority.

    Sustainability studies have also shown us that smarter, local, ground up, even free market ideas can yield tremendously effective solutions to things like global warming. It just takes a perceptual shift. It does not have to be all about big spending. Economic viability is almost a requirement for any real sustainable solution. We can start by ending subsidies on fossil fuels to create a more level playing field for energy development. Sustainability is about smarter, better, more profitable, and more environmentally friendly solutions. Ecological capital is part of the equation already in the free market. We just need politicians who are not stuck in the 20th century mindset.

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  9. 9. jeffanderson 1:54 pm 07/19/2012

    I agree with this… honestly, the answers to these questions would seriously sway my vote in November. Currently, I am not dazzled by either candidate (as usually happens).

    On the other hand, Obama’s (likely) scripted answers will probably align more with my views and hopes for this country, because republicans seem to want elitist college education system and deny climate change (especially our effect on it).

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  10. 10. Christine Gorman 2:29 pm 07/19/2012

    jeffanderson said “I agree with this… honestly, the answers to these questions would seriously sway my vote in November.” That’s why we think it is so important to take part in this initiative.

    Also, if you go to, you’ll see there’s a move by more than a dozen scientific organizations and thousands of engineers and scientists to either get a full-on televised science debate between the candidates or at least get some science questions included in the three currently scheduled debates.

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  11. 11. singing flea 3:01 pm 07/19/2012

    The questions are relevant and do deserve answers from our politicians, but, as the ol’ cliche goes, if wishes were horses beggars would ride.

    The answers to these questions would be best answered by a analysis of the prospective candidates past performance. Asking a politician what he or she will do in the future is like asking a lawyer if they would defend a criminal they knew was guilty for enough money.

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  12. 12. sonoran 3:02 pm 07/19/2012

    I’d love to see a Televised debate on this. It’d get us past the “scripted response” dilemma.

    If the candidates feel their answers will only be viewed by a small sub-group they tend to tailor the answers to the group’s point of view, but if the answers are viewed by a larger group of voters, they have to reconcile their answers with their constituent’s prevailing views.

    The latter is more predictive of a candidate’s performance in office in my opinion.

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  13. 13. R1b1c 4:01 pm 07/19/2012

    Question #1 “What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?”
    Shouldn’t that read “What policies will best ensure that the United States of America remains a world leader in innovation?”?
    America as we all know is the continent, the US of A only one of 37 American nations.

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  14. 14. just1observer 4:52 pm 07/19/2012

    I strongly support the notion of developing questions about science that candidates would need to answer. I would like to see it in a live debate. In lieu of that, it needs to become an explicit part of a candidates platform and record. You have an important role to play to help make this so. I applaud your efforts.

    With that in mind, I believe there is a range of more fundamental science related questions that need to be included, asked, and answered. Here are a few quick ideas for questions that I believe should be further developed and included.
    - What is science? What does it mean to you? How do you value it? How do you reconcile your personal religious and political views that conflict with broadly accepted and/or proven science? How would your administration reconcile these potential conflicts.
    - Much of mankind’s future hinges on scientific discoveries, applications, and policies. How would you and your administration adjudicate differences between inconvenient scientific truths that may be at odds with religious, political, or economic ambitions?
    - Science is about seeking, finding, understanding, and documenting “the truth” about the world and universe we live in. How would you and your administration help protect the integrity of scientific endeavors and help prevent the politicizing of science?

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  15. 15. Christine Gorman 5:00 pm 07/19/2012

    just1observer writes: “I believe there is a range of more fundamental science related questions that need to be included, asked, and answered. Here are a few quick ideas for questions that I believe should be further developed and included.”

    My first thought: We’ve still got to get them to consider debating scientific issues as important as economy, foreign policy. That alone is going to be a long process that will require the efforts of lots of people.

    Second thought: Once science is on the debating agenda in this election and the one after that (and at all levels of government), we can go deeper with the questions.

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  16. 16. profdon 5:00 pm 07/19/2012

    Good questions BUT I feel that #11 should be much harder hitting to address directly the influence (or not) of “faith based” mythologies in/on policy. CPRitter and sonoran are correct, the candidates should have to answer the survey on their own, extempo, without the benefit/shield of their respective spin doctors and political advisors hiding off camera. A whole debate on NOTHING BUT HARD SCIENTIFIC ISSUES would be very revealing to everyone, not that I think for one second that the Rebublicrats will/would agree to that.

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  17. 17. Zexks 5:45 pm 07/19/2012

    Romney’s answer to all of them: I don’t know, but I’ll do better than obama.

    Obama’s answer to all of them: I don’t know, but I promise I’ll try to do better.

    No specifics, nothing concrete, just more rhetoric.

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  18. 18. tucanofulano 5:49 pm 07/19/2012

    None of these are questions; each one is a soap box polemic. KISS is the best avenue.

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  19. 19. Christine Gorman 6:31 pm 07/19/2012

    tucanofulano writes: “None of these are questions; each one is a soap box polemic.”

    Since when is stating the facts a polemic?

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  20. 20. MARCHER 7:33 pm 07/19/2012


    Since Repubs became the anti-science party.

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  21. 21. Oldineluctable 8:21 pm 07/19/2012

    I can tell you that Obama knows nothing about science, he is still waitng for the donations to come in from all 57 states.

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  22. 22. Oldineluctable 8:25 pm 07/19/2012

    Cap and trade and taxes are a ball and chain to research. But, what is really needed is UNBIASED research.

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  23. 23. CliffClark 9:34 pm 07/19/2012

    I would like both candidates to let us know what they think about the evidence for peak oil, peak population, etc., and whether economic growth can be sustained and for how long. Then couple that to science and innovation.

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  24. 24. rncbr 2:11 am 07/20/2012

    Regarding #7 Food, you fail to mention one of the more pressing concerns with respect to food: obesity and general health. There is convincing evidence that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in this country. There are is also extensive evidence that diet is contributing to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases. Furthermore, there is substantial evidence that government food policy, price supports, and agricultural subsidies are contributing to our unhealthy eating habits. What steps would they take to ensure that Americans have a healthy diet, as well as a safe one?

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  25. 25. stargene 5:29 am 07/20/2012

    I have an enormous sense of futility in saying this,
    but here goes. Some of you assume the candidates will field these questions. Some of you assume more realistically that their advisers and spin-doctors
    will do the responding. It doesn’t matter.

    The following has always been true. But never
    with quite such slick evasiveness (~Obama) or
    such brazen, coarse and uncaring ignorance

    In these strange days of The Great Divide, when
    you ask a practiced dyed-in-the-wool politico
    anything in the public arena, you are simply
    begging to be lied to. To take an extreme example
    of nincompoopery asking to be pandered to… imagine candidates’ answers to the following popular

    “Do you go to church?”

    Three guesses what their response is going to be.

    Any answers Obama and Romney may grace us with,
    based on this already over-polite list, will not
    only be designed to mollify, deflect and reassure.
    These two candidates have a dismaying history of
    trailing false signals… stated or implied values
    which are soon abandoned like so many cookie crumbs
    or banana peels (take your pick.)

    This is not cynicism, but a realistic recognition
    of the increasingly naked power of wealth’s ad-
    diction to the next quarterly’s profit needle-fix.

    Standard mainstream political/corporate mentality
    can be neither meaningfully bargained with, reasoned with, nor reformed. Its true compass and guiding
    star is disjoint from all considerations down in
    the communities across the nation; certainly across
    the world. The legitimate concerns in your science
    and technology list created by SciAm and other
    groups are deemed largelyirrelevant by the growing corporate-political axis, exact perhaps by some big insurance, who unhappily are having to foot the
    bill due to real, actual and growing impacts from
    climate change.

    Science and scientists and engineers need to redirect their energies, concerns and persuasions toward the little people, young and old alike, down in the towns, cities and farmlands across the land. Trust them,
    that they can and will understand the larger issues,
    even though they’ve been starved of education in
    science and math and critical thinking for about
    forty years, when our corporate croesuses proudly
    intoned that we were now going to ship our manu-
    facturing and industrial economy overseas, to
    become instead a service-economy. Which resulted,
    predictably, in the disastrous decline in grades
    in arts and sciences, because while industrial work required a minimal proficiency in knowing cause-and-effect, science, numeracy, measure, basic logic… service work, being largely a further abstraction
    away from physical and emotional interaction in
    the creation of actual things, does not require
    any knowledge of process, manufactory, nor the
    long term, often subtle effects of things on
    the world, human and other. Not to mention that
    an under educated public is easier to divide, shock, deflect and control.

    Honest and egalitarian attention to the science,
    arts, math and critical thinking needs of millions
    of grass-roots people will in the end provide the
    only true hope for bringing serious pressure and
    change for good, i.e.: speaking truth to power…
    keeping politicians’ feet to the fire. What a
    longed for image!

    For that matter, let this newly educated grass-
    roots into and even occupy the corridors of power
    for once and for good. Because no matter how hard
    they strain, the almighty but “humble” super-rich
    will never succeed in pushing that poor camel
    through the eye of that stupid needle. There’s
    a reason why.

    Any innocent child can tell you.

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  26. 26. aidel 8:01 am 07/20/2012

    To all the ungrateful commenters: It is such a victory that science is even part of the conversation. How can you not see that? Thanks, Christine, for doing this.

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  27. 27. Christine Gorman 11:43 am 07/20/2012

    aidel: You’re welcome. But we’re also asking for everyone’s help in to get more voices speaking up in favor of getting science into the presidential debates and the broader political conversation.

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  28. 28. RickRay 2:49 pm 07/20/2012

    As long as you have 40% plus of Americans believing that the universe is 6 to 10 thousand years old, good luck on educating them. Anti-science, anti-intellectual religionists are what is keeping America behind. As long as people say they would never vote for a non-believer, I think Science and reality are headed back to the Dark Ages. I hate being pessimistic, but realize that a guy who believes in magic underwear and will rule his own planet with several women by his side may be your next president. signed: A Canadian

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  29. 29. vagnry 3:06 pm 07/20/2012

    I really do welcome the effort to question the candidates on important science issues, but, as a Dane, I wholeheartedly agree with RickRay, science is not a big issue, at least not in Europe or North America, “we” have “somehow evolved past that level”, while China, India, South Korea etc. are evolving and thriving on that level.

    I realize I am seeing the log in our eyes, to keep up the religious issue!

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  30. 30. Asteroid Miner 11:33 pm 07/20/2012

    Why not look at their academic records? Did either of them ever take a science or math course in high school or college?

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  31. 31. rlbrandt 5:27 pm 07/21/2012

    Even though the candidates’ advisers will come up with the answers for them, this is an important thing to do. Advisers (and their parties) are behind a lot of the policies they will set in office anyway. Facing these questions head-on will, perhaps, prevent them from hiding behind obfuscation in order to keep from pissing people off. I know so many Republicans who do not believe global warming is real because the GOP preaches that the evidence is bad and it will cost a lot of money and increase taxes. If Romney gives that answer, we can get a vigorous public debate going around his answer.

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  32. 32. hb 5:49 pm 07/21/2012

    Of course, the electorate should know how the candidates stand on these (societal, not just scientific and technological) matters, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The candidates mainly want to be president rather than solve the country’s problems, and they’ll say anything they and their handlers figure will play well with the voters.

    What I find particularly amusing is the idea that the candidates should discuss these important matters in a televised debate. If politicians are good at anything at all it is the ability to talk for hours without saying anything of substance.

    I would think that the candidates should be asked to put their commitments in writing. This would make it easier to see if they and their advisers actually gave serious thought to these questions. It would also be easier to hold the winning candidate accountable. This is also likely the last thing any candidates would want to do.

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  33. 33. veronica_tg 5:06 pm 07/23/2012

    I wonder if the general public even cares enough about science today for there to be any support for these issues. Today people are so ignorant they are actualy afraid of and mistrust science. They would rather have faith in a sky daddy that makes them feel comfortable. Sure, the highly educated care alot about these issues but that seems to be a dwindling minority today. Do the candidates care about this minority?

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  34. 34. alchemist-2u 5:58 pm 07/23/2012

    Unfortunately, question 2 is so hopelessly polarized, that the responses probably should be ignored, they are little more than knee-jerk reactions based upon perceived perceptions of the political clientele of the responder. Ignore and move on.

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  35. 35. alchemist-2u 6:02 pm 07/23/2012

    Point 3, basic research without a federal funding base, in reality, will not happen. This is a sine qua non for the future and the candidate need to be clear on what they will do for long term research that does not have a guaranteed outcome.

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  36. 36. llmystic 7:51 pm 07/23/2012

    My feeling is that the questions are too specific, and in some cases presuppose answers that might be invalid anyway. For example, global climate change is not the essential issue — damage to the environment is the essential issue. It would do us no good to prevent climate change while still allowing poisoning by pollution, species loss due to habitat destruction and over-exploitation, ruin of the land due to poor agricultural and forestry practices as well as unrestrained development, industrial and resource exploitation activity, and a host of other human assaults on the environment. Likewise, who has chosen to be God and say that climate change could best be dealt with by means of carbon trading or higher taxes? Might not environmental restoration, including planting more trees, work better, be safer and cheaper too? Science could answer this question, but assuming the answer is arrogant, and probably an error. Question 2 should be about working towards a sustainable society, so that humans can live in harmony with the natural world and protect and restore the environment which we all depend on to live.

    The other questions are similarly narrow and generally miss the point. We should be asking questions more like: How can we educate Americans (adults as well as children) to better understand how things work, including the natural world but also the technology we all use and depend on? How can we use the methods of Science to create a better society, with less poverty, less disease, less violence, and more freedom for all of us? What kind of world do we want to bring about, for ourselves and future generations to live in? How can we use Science to live better without damaging the environment and without exploiting other human beings? What are the best ways to insure security without building a police state, creating doomsday weapons, and killing innocent people, which only make us less safe?

    Yes there is an agenda implied. I want a society that exists sustainably in harmony with the natural world, and also in harmony with other societies. I want a society that values and supports maximum freedom for individuals and communities consistent with security for everyone. I want a society in which all people can be well educated, healthy, and wealthy enough to live a decent life without fear of want. And I want a society with respect for diversity and with more equality of power. Others might want a different kind of society. Maybe it is even more important to ask the real question of the candidates: What kind of society do you want? And how do you propose to work toward that vision? I think the answer must inevitably include Science, but if not, that would also reveal something important about the candidates.

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  37. 37. Diesel67 8:03 pm 07/23/2012

    Don’t be surprised if you don’t get answers. Project Vote Smart has been doing something similar for a number of years, and most major party candidates refuse to answer. Their handlers advise them not to pin themselves down and give ammunition to opposition research. All we can do is brand them cowards and dig up their positions on their own from publicly available info. You might want to get in touch with Vote Smart at .

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  38. 38. Diesel67 8:06 pm 07/23/2012

    Sorry, it’s . Delete “project.”

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  39. 39. IslandGardener 4:09 am 07/24/2012

    Well done Christine, this is brilliant!

    I agree with sjn on the military thing – and perhaps this is why many people are suspicious of science, because they know that some scientists have colluded with powerful people to cause more death and destruction and suffering in the world.
    I also agree with llmystic that we need more sustainable farming – again, some scientists have produced pesticides which have caused havoc.

    So we also need to discuss the ethics of science, and put funding into ethical scientific research, such as ecology, rather than into producing more weapons and poisons. This is about power.

    So I’m with stargene on this – we need to ensure that science is for the people.

    I’ve recently read Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ for the first time, and was not just educated but really moved by it, partly precisely because he makes it so clear that we need science and education to be democratic – we need good education for everybody. If voters had a good understanding of science, critical thinking, sustainability, then we’d vote for better candidates.

    I’m British and we’ve got similar problems here in Britain, where science teaching has been downgraded for decades.

    Here the stupid certain ideology isn’t religious but economic. We’re plagued by the ‘free-marketeers’ who betray what Adams Smith said by believing that private ‘enterprise’ can solve everything, and because of their unthinking belief in this ideology, despite the evidence, they do immoral and stupid things.

    We also have almost no scientists, engineers or other practical people in parliament, and it seems that they don’t listen to the civil servants who do know about science.

    For example, after the financial crisis our Environment Secretary cut funding for flood defences. Then surprise surprise extreme weather (as predicted by climate scientists) meant that thousands of people got flooded out of their homes. It’s only a few years ago that the last government (not great, but better than the current lot) made it compulsory for local planning authorities to listen to the advice on flood risk from the Environment Agency, so before that developers built thousands of homes in flood plains…

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  40. 40. IslandGardener 6:32 am 07/24/2012

    The BBC (British Broadcsating Corporation) have just broadcast a good couple of programmes on Radio 4, ‘Does Science Need the People?’
    I don’t know if they’ll be available in the USA – as you won’t have paid the licence fee over there! – but worth a listen if you can.

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  41. 41. MarkL 9:59 am 07/24/2012

    Will you ask for the identities of the Policy Team members who will answer these questions on the candidates’ behalf?

    Will you prevent the candidates from using your questions as mere segues into their policy talking points?

    Will you add this question: The Bush Administration from 2001 until 2009 was well known to be averse to science when science conflicted with Republican ideology. Will your administration (or second term) bear any of the same hallmarks of ignoring reality for policy reasons?

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  42. 42. MarkL 10:05 am 07/24/2012

    You need a better editor. This question is not well-written:

    “Scientists estimate that 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline, habitats like coral reefs are threatened, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What role should the federal government play domestically and through foreign policy to protect the environmental health and economic vitality of the oceans?”

    “Estimate” is misapplied to all of the items in that series. You would do better to say: Scientists know that an approximately 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline. Meanwhile, habitats like coral reefs are threatened, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What role should the federal government play domestically and through foreign policy to protect the environmental health and economic vitality of the oceans?

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  43. 43. Will_B 10:54 am 07/24/2012

    I think we need less of a science litmus test and more questions on how science issues fit into the candidates’ vision of where the country needs to go. As complicated as science is, it is nothing compared to actually addressing these issues from this position. The only thing more complicated than a biological ecosystem may be a political ecosystem. The failure of current solutions raised to address very real problems, such as carbon trading and the Kyoto Protocol to address climate change demonstrate the need for alternative solutions and visions that will actually work. These solutions do not need to be pretty and perfect should never get in the way of good enough. Could rapid development, to include development of US gas supplies be the best path to addressing climate change as a bridge fuel? A clock that worked on a ship turned out to be the solution to ocean navigation problems. We need to be similarly open to finding not readily apparent solutions like that to our current problems. All questions should be framed in this context. And only if we do that, will we have any impact at all.

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  44. 44. bucketofsquid 4:29 pm 07/25/2012

    In Response to fyngyrz – Since you are clearly a child molesting ass hat, it would be nice if the blogs had a report abuse button. Any religion, including atheism, has faith based on invented evidence as it’s core foundation. How about we leave the religion discussion to a religious forum and stick to science in the science forums? I don’t care if a candidate is a Satanist as long as their policies are good and they know what they are doing.

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  45. 45. maxmichael 6:21 pm 07/26/2012

    bucketsofsquid: (1) There is no evidence in fyngyrz’s considered comment to justify your abusive description of him/her. (2) Atheism, unlike religions, does NOT have “faith based or invented evidence as it’s [sic] core foundation”. Religions propagate beliefs that are NOT based on evidence. Atheists reject such beliefs. (3) I DO care if the most powerful person on earth bases his decisions on a belief system that does not correspond with or is even contrary to scientific evidence. Question to Christine: It is obvious that Scientific American is carefully avoiding the religion question. When do you think will America be able to face that question? In 10 years? In 100 years? Never??

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  46. 46. 9:00 pm 07/26/2012

    I’m generally sympathetic to the intent of the questions but am concerned about some of the underlying assumptions.

    The first is that science is some monolithic activity, all of which is equally useful, simply because we do not know where the next great breakthrough will come. However, where taxpayer dollars are concerned we need to be very careful about where we are spending it. Is there a likely payoff to the taxpayer from more pictures from Hubble/Webb telescopes or from cosmological studies? How about particle accelerators? Anthropology? Political Science? Economics? We certainly can see benefits to improved weather forecasting, biomedical research, materials science, conservation, energy production, storage, and transmission. But I’m not even sure that many of these activities deserve taxpayer assistance if private funding is available. Private funding would not have to be certain – just available, because companies have to decide on how to allocate their resources and justify those decisions to the owners. (Just like the government.) It may boil down to the need for better criteria as to whether a scientific activity deserves public funding, something more to guide grant reviewers distributing the resources of the NSF and the NIH.

    The second is that there is broad agreement in science on basic issues. Yes, in theory all papers should be replicable, but that probably requires a lot of equipment and time that specialists not in the field do not have. Agreement may be too broad a term — maybe acceptance is a more accurate description.

    The third is the need for lots more graduates in STEM studies. We may need more, but I’d want to be sure that we are employing the ones that we have available. I certainly haven’t read reports about astronomical signing bonuses that math and science teachers or lab researchers are getting because of their scarcity, but I hope that they are getting them. I’d not like to see a repeat of the engineering gluts that we have had in the past, and I’d want to be sure that there are sufficient laboratories and jobs for all of those researchers we would be turning out. We need excellent and creative students in the STEM fields — and these need to know that they will be compensated well when they have finished their studies — as well as if they had become doctors, lawyers, or investment bankers. Others need to check carefully that the jobs they will be pursuing will actually be there after they have committed years and taken on huge debt to get there.

    So while it is important to get the sense of where the candidates and their advisors are on these critical questions, we need to understand that there is not likely to be a right and wrong answer. It’s messy.

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  47. 47. bigperk 9:12 am 07/27/2012

    Looks like a good range of questions to me, and I agree with the ‘watering-down’ of the climate Change one – while I believe that most scientists point the finger us Homo Sapiens (I do), not everyone does. BUT there are VERY few who are 100% died in the wool deniers about CC itself, so it makes sense to frame it this way – it doesn’t really matter WHAT the cause is, SOMETHING needs to be done. (In fact I hope it IS us to blame; if it’s a natural Earth ‘rebalancing’, we are in BIG trouble!)

    Haven’t read all the comments yet, so these points might be covered. (1) There are no questions about conservation as such (not necessarily part of CC), but things like animal, forest, habitat conservation, and restoration (eh shale gas extraction, arctic development) seem important; (2)Energy should mention green/renewable/reduction- though they are not all as environmentally-friendly once the life-cycle effect are taken into account, there are stillplenty of examples, in the US and elsewhere, of energy reduction schemes which have been highly successfula nd profitable for all parties involved. And anyway, it’s about time that we realise that even if ‘cleaner’ energy isn’t always free then we MAY have to accept the extra costs for it sometimes and not always take the ‘dumper’s’ line that it’s got to be cheaper than dirty energy if we are going to switch now (“Pay now, save later”, rather than “Don’t pay now, Pay later”);

    Good Luck with this effort. Hope the politicians can handle such a broad range of detiled topics within their attention span. I’ll be most interested in seeing the results. If the outcome is successful, please send a copy to the ‘New Scientist’ in the UK ahead of our next election!

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  48. 48. Christine Gorman 4:50 pm 07/27/2012

    bigperk wrote ” If the outcome is successful, please send a copy to the ‘New Scientist’ in the UK ahead of our next election!”

    Several comments have talked about the need for a similar effort in the UK. Can you suggest any organized science groups who might get behind this?

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  49. 49. bigperk 9:53 am 07/29/2012

    @ Christine Gorman – I mentioned the New Scientist as it fulfils a similar sort of publishing role in the UK to Scientific American’s US coverage.

    A more ‘official’ body I would suggest is the Royal Society in London (“The Society’s fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.”) which provides advice, ‘education’ and information to all who will listen, public and government alike, as well as scientific seminars and symposia. We attend public talks there quite regularly.

    By the way, if anyone with a scientific interest is visiting the UK for the Olympics, they might like to visit the RS (just off Trafalgar Square) and see the handwritten version of Isaac Newton’s renowned ‘Principia’ (written some years before he took over at the Royal Mint and started executing counterfeiters!)

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  50. 50. bigperk 6:56 am 08/4/2012

    (Should have marked to receive any update to this discussion)

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  51. 51. rodestar99 10:06 am 08/22/2012

    We all long for a utopion society where energy is abundant and free or cheap, there is social equality
    ,and we can supply all of our needs without damage to
    the environment.
    The problem is it takes money to do all this. We need
    employment and economic strength to have the resources to devote to these things.
    Academics and scientists get their income from the
    money generated by the economic machinery. It is nice
    to set around and think about this stuff but it is nicer yet to be able to work to achieve it. No matter what the new presidents policy may be he must have the resources to support it.
    Therefore what we need to be asking is who can get the
    economic engine revved up.
    I will leave it to the readers to decide that, but that is the real question.

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  52. 52. MorganJNZ 4:22 pm 09/5/2012

    Interesting that evolution was not mentioned at all, and the need for that to be taught in schools, and how religious pseudo-science alternatives such as ‘intelligent design’ have no place in a Science curriculum.

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  53. 53. upload70 9:38 am 10/5/2012

    in theory they have the advice of experts in every scientific field but I imagine many of these advisors are simply yes men.

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