This year, I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of the inaugural class of the Presidential Leadership Scholars (PLS) program, which brings together 60 leaders from around the country to work on projects designed to create significant social impact and change. PLS is co-sponsored by the presidential libraries of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson. Each scholar focuses on our own project in the field of our expertise, while learning from the former presidents and their teams. My project is ScienceDebate.
Readers interested in policy may already be familiar with ScienceDebate, founded in 2008. We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit initiative working to raise the visibility of science and technology policy issues along the presidential campaign trail. During the past two elections, all three major candidates (President Barack Obama and his Republican opponents Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney) responded in writing to 14 questions cultivated and reviewed by our team on science and tech policy. (Tremendous thanks to Scientific American, which has been a wonderful media partner organization in this effort!)
Today we have nearly 42,000 supporters including members of Congress, Nobel laureates, over 100 university presidents, and many organizations that have added their names to this nonpartisan statement:
“Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for public debates in which the U.S. presidential and congressional candidates share their views on the issues of science and technology policy, health and medicine, and the environment.”
The issues that ScienceDebate focuses on, from the energy and climate change to human health and drought, are not “science” challenges, they are humanity’s challenges, inherently connected to the economy and global leadership. Through the PLS program, I am working on scaling up our efforts (visit us on Facebook) in time for the 2016 election so that every U.S. citizen can be more informed before we go to the polls.
Two weeks ago in Little Rock, we had the honor of meeting President Bill Clinton during a session focused on communicating a vision and the importance of storytelling. To prepare, I read a lot about the Clinton administration, including speeches and lectures spanning two decades. I’ve been struck by just how much our former president values science and innovation, while expressing what I can only describe as a contagious curiosity about topics like the human genome and space exploration.
Fifty years ago, nearly 12 percent of our federal budget went to research and development (a lot of the “science stuff”). Today, it is just 3.4 percent. My time in Arkansas emphasized the message that the science community must do a better job of telling our stories and making science relevant. Science has been politicized, but in reality, issues like energy, food and water affect every person’s future, no matter which party we support. My hope is that ScienceDebate will continue to engage policymakers on these critical issues. The policies we set now will determine the way the next generations live.
Will you join us?