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Advances in Science Drive Economic Growth

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

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Source: League of Women Voters

A quest to get more discussion about science and scientific issues in the run-up to this year’s presidential election in the U.S, is starting to get noticed. NPR’s Ira Flatow will be talking about science and the elections with political analyst David Gergen, author Shawn Lawrence Otto and physicist Michael Lubell in the first hour of Science Friday tomorrow, and Curtis Brainerd wrote a blog post about the venture for the Columbia Journalism Review. You can check out a list of other coverage or sign the petition to get Candidates Obama and Romney to debate science issues at

Scientific American has joined this endeavor to get the U.S. presidential candidates to talk about substantive issues related to science and we will be grading the candidates on their answers to 14 top science questions facing the U.S. The questions were agreed on by more than a dozen scientific institutions, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academies. The results will appear both on Scientific American’s website and, with further analysis about science in the public discourse, as part of our November magazine issue (in print and iPad).

I was impressed by the quality of most of the comments we received to the full list of 14 questions, which I posted here last week. I particularly liked reading all the additional questions that some commentators came up with — except for the gotcha questions, which seemed designed to shut down debate rather than to open up the dialogue. I was particularly impressed by Will_B’s response, which begins “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.”

So, I thought I would post each of the questions from the list in turn for the next 14 weeks (one per week, which should take us to late October), add a few links to the supporting material behind the statement and follow up on the best comments you post.  This way, we can collectively drill a little deeper on each of the questions, explore why they should be included in the presidential campaigns and my colleagues and I at Scientific American can do a better job when it comes time to analyzing the answers.

I look forward to reading and responding to your comments. I’ve also included links to some backup material.

Question #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?

Additional links:

The idea that half the economic growth in the US since World War II can be traced to advances in science and technology can be traced to Robert Solow, who won the Nobel Prize in economics for the research behind this statement. His major point: capital and labor are not the only things that drive economic growth.

Innovations that drive lasting economic growth emerge from the most advanced science, mathematics and technology.” — Susan Hockfield, president of MIT, speaking to the annual meeting of the National Governors Association.

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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  1. 1. Zexks 11:42 am 07/27/2012

    This will spark an “America is still the greatest” urinating match in which both pundits try to say that regardless of what the polls show, we’re still a great country and we’ll continue to be great. Not only that but you’re asking a supposed anti-government pundit (Romney) how he’s going to use government money to help fund science. His claimed position is to promote the free market and eliminate government “support” of various types. I would like to say obama would answer better, but I don’t think he knows or cares enough about science at this point to do any better than romney.

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  2. 2. Christine Gorman 4:43 pm 07/27/2012

    Zexks: We’re not going to get very far if we claim defeat from the very start. The first question asks what for policy specifics to help promote science-based economic growth. These could be fully free-market based, a mixture of public and private endeavors, or fully public-funding based. This question does not assume government funding.

    But we do want specifics. If the answers are so general as to be meaningless, then we say so. And ask again, and again and again. That’s how democracy works.

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  3. 3. Christine Gorman 4:45 pm 07/27/2012

    Typed too fast. Obviously meant to say “The first question asks for policy specifics to help promote science-based economic growth.”

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  4. 4. S. N. Tiwary 6:38 pm 07/27/2012

    Science enhances technology. Technology enhances industry. Industry enhances economy. Economy enhances standard of life. Thus, it is clear that science plays an extremely important role in the society. In order to make a society an ideal or perfect society, it is indispensable to develop science.
    S. N. Tiwary

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  5. 5. MrDrT 12:32 pm 07/28/2012

    I’m sure that both candidates can cite examples of the other side using science for political gain. I have made a living in science and technology fields for 35 years and, because the topic is of great interest to me and I’ve devoted a lot of study and though to this matter, I’ve concluded that the politicization of science is a root cause of the decline of science in our educational curricula and in the priority of national discourse. The path back to sanity and credibility for the scientific community may well be to devise a way to impartially evaluate scientific results; peer review no longer seems to work. I don’t see how that is accomplished when the decision-making for government funding is clearly politically motivated and for corporate sponsorship, profit motivated. That doen’t mean that a credible method of allocating research funding cannot be devise or identified, but if financial or political gain is the ends . . . and the scince is the funded means then the process is, by definition, corrupt. The candidate that can propose and deliver a depoliticized solution to that quandry has my vote. Truth is they are “candidates.”

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  6. 6. ARP 3:41 pm 07/28/2012

    Innovation and the Economy: This is a chicken and egg topic. Innovation by itself have nothing to do to contribute to the economy unless it is used in some transaction leading to some sort of business. There are many worthy inventions and innovations (IIs) that are choking because of lack of funding. The irony is that, the US is buying the very same products from overseas but not not paying attention to the homegrown ones. Thus there is a two-fold loss from the economic point of view. But more importantly, the minds that are behind these IIs are being disenfranchised. This trend is going on for a while and the US is becoming a perpetual “consumer society.”

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