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 ScienceDebate.org.
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?
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.