Save for the media swarm in the wake of the hand raises by Republican candidates Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo, it appears Hillary Clinton is the first to put science in the spotlight in the race for the White House. Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch Thursday at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Clinton took the opportunity to talk about Bush's less publicized war--the one on science. (This, no doubt, had author and columnist Chris Mooney doing backflips.) She also released, via her website, an "Agenda to Reclaim Scientific Innovation." Here's an outline of the other "war," thus far:
...instead of fostering a climate of discovery and innovation, the Bush administration has declared war on science. The record is breathtaking: banning the most promising kinds of stem cell research, allowing political appointees to censor studies on climate change, muzzling global warming experts like Dr. James Hansen, overruling doctors and the FDA on emergency contraception, suppressing and manipulating data on mercury pollution, even delaying one report which found that 8 percent of women between 16 and 49 years of age have mercury levels in their blood that could harm future children, denying the risks of toxins like asbestos in the air after the 9/11 attacks, overruling scientists who sought to protect animals under the Endangered Species Act, eliminating scientific committees at the Department of Health and Human Services that did not parrot the politically accepted ideology -- or packing those committees with industry insiders, altering scientific tests on the lead content of children's lunch boxes -- and appointing a lead industry consultant to a key panel formed by the Centers for Disease Control, barring a USDA researcher from publishing or even discussing his work on antibiotic resistant bacteria, censoring government websites on breast cancer research, contraception, climate change, and so much else.
She covered all the highlights of science and policy: stem cells, the mess at the FDA, budget woes (at agencies from NIH to DARPA), space exploration (both manned and unmanned), climate change, and renewable energy. While, these issues are likely not new to readers of this publication and other science-savvy individuals, it's heartening to see them introduced on the political stump. Of course (and here's my cynical streak erupting from my bile-filled belly) this speech was at the Carnegie Institution for Science. What was she going to talk about? Tax cuts for the rich? Within the context of the entire Clinton campaign, this is something Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, and his colleague Matt Nisbet would call "framing." Hillary's platform is no doubt broad and has primarily focused on Bush's more well-known war, healthcare, education reform and whether or not she wants to pow wow with some of the more controversial world leaders in power today. But, on this day, she chose to focus on science. Rather than framing, I call this "playing to the crowd." (I will consider calling it framing as soon as Mooney and Nisbet admit they are writing a book about framing in the Gladwellian mold, which, lucky for them, a recent Wired article can help them title and turn into a cash cow. For those interested, myself included, Mooney will be further breaking down the elements--or frames--of the speech all week on his blog.) But, leaving the semantic discussion on framing, I am more concerned with whether the substance of this speech will just fade away to the bottom of Clinton's bullet-point list of stances, or whether such a strident call-to-arms will necessitate others (both Democrat and Republican) to refine their ideas about the role science plays in the next election. I would like to see some alternative options to Clinton's proposals from other candidates because, frankly, this is a topic that's important to me. There is plenty to tweak, massage or offer alternative ideas here: The issue of manned vs. unmanned space exploration, new ideas for improving science education, how to increase the number of women pursuing science degrees, etc. The hope is that the Obamas and Edwards (and to a less likely extent the Giulianis and Romneys of the world) won't just say, "Hey, that sounds good, just fold all that business Hillary was talking about into my campaign, as well." But will anyone step up and take what Hillary has proposed and run with it? Will Hillary even mention the subject in similar breadth and depth when it's not a significant scientific anniversary and she's not standing in front of a group of researchers? With all the aforementioned highlights, it seems as though, if science and technology are going to have their day in the political arena, now would be the time. Hell, just days before Clinton's speech, Michael Griffin, NASA chief, admitted that China will likely beat the United States back to the moon. Do we have to wait another 10 years for another Communist country to beat us to a space goal before we re-prioritize science in our culture? (That last time really served to chap our collective hide.) If no one else in either party puts their chips down, remember New York mayor (and rumored independent presidential candidate) Michael Bloomberg has been there, done that. Hey, Hillary, can you say "running mate"?