Do you believe that evolution by means of natural selection is a sufficient explanation for the variety and complexity of life on Earth? Should intelligent design, or some derivative thereof, be taught in science class in public schools?This is from the latest issue of Nature whose cover story is about the candidates' views on scientific issues, views that are going to be of paramount importance to the future well-being of this country. Nature asked the candidates 18 questions about science and technology, including questions about increasing funding for basic research, speeding up the track to permanent residency for talented foreign students, and pumping more funds into biomedical innovations.
Obama: I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated. I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny.
Not suprisingly, McCain's camp declined to answer with specifics and Nature dug up relevant statements from his old speeches that mainly included boilerplate sound-bytes. Obama's camp on the other hand provided rather eloquent and clear answers that actually talk about facts. It's pretty amazing to hear answers that actually are filled with details about science. McCain's cast of "science" advisors looks like a Gilligan's Island outfit and includes HP chief Carly Fiorina (who thinks Sarah Palin is quite competent to be President), James Woolsey, a former CIA director and Meg Whitman, former CEO of EBay. This group seems as miscast for science as Sarah Palin is miscast for being Vice President. Obama's advisors on the other hand include some real scientists, including Dan Kammen from Berkeley and Harold Varmus from Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Obama would speed up the residency process for foreign students and minimize barriers between private and public R & D (this is going to be very important). And Obama is as clear about nuclear energy as anything else
What role does nuclear power have in your vision for the US energy supply, and how would you address the problem of nuclear waste?Most importantly, Obama promises to reform the political environment for scientific opinion; this would include appointing a Chief Technology Officer for the government and strengthening the President's Scientific Advisory Committee, a key source of scientific advice for the President that was abolished by the odious Richard Nixon
Obama: Nuclear power represents an important part of our current energy mix. Nuclear also represents 70% of our non-carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option. However, before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed, including security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage and proliferation. The nuclear waste disposal efforts at Yucca Mountain [in Nevada] have been an expensive failure and should be abandoned. I will work with the industry and governors to develop a way to store nuclear waste safely while we pursue long-term solutions.
Many scientists are bitter about what they see as years of political interference in scientific decisions at federal agencies. What would you do to help restore impartial scientific advice in government?This point is the most encouraging policy vision, after a 8 year tradition of bullying, manipulating, cherry picking, ignoring and roughing up science and objective facts. The cost of scientific ignorance will be progress in all its forms.
Obama: Scientific and technological information is of growing importance to a range of issues. I believe such information must be expert and uncoloured by ideology. I will restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees. More broadly, I am committed to creating a transparent and connected democracy, using cutting edge technologies to provide a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens. Policies must be determined using a process that builds on the long tradition of open debate that has characterized progress in science, including review by individuals who might bring new information or contrasting views. I have already established an impressive team of science advisers, including several Nobel laureates, who are helping me to shape a robust science agenda for my
Reading this is like being immersed inside a gutter for 8 years and suddenly coming up for fresh air in the bright sunlight with a gasp. We finally see a political leader who can actually think and give serious thought to all sides of a problem including dissenting ones. There's a scientist in Obama somewhere. This man deserves to lead this country. This country (at least for those who care) deserves to be led by this man.