Late last year, a handful of individuals spawned an idea, calling for a presidential debate on science in the United States. They started a website and called it Science Debate 2008, and received a vocal response.
For much of the last ~9 months since then, it seemed that the candidates from both parties were intent on ignoring such a call (or at least that was my cynical impression). It almost seems that one requisite for political advancement is to pander to opponents of scientifically-sound public health, science education, climate change mitigation, energy, environmental protection, and research policies. Even the Democratic candidates do so.
But lo and behold!, Barack Obama has responded to 14 ScienceDebate questions. And his answers are even halfway decent!
What do Obama's responses tell us about him and his support of scientifically-sound policies? Well, not necessarily that he is personally good on science – but he does apparently know how to hire decent scientific advisers, and listen to them. That is huge.
Specifically, when asked about scientific integrity, he affirms that he will:
- Appoint individuals with strong science and technology backgrounds and unquestioned reputations for integrity and objectivity to the growing number of senior management positions where decisions must incorporate science and technology advice. These positions will be filled promptly with ethical, highly qualified individuals on a non-partisan basis.
- Establish the nation's first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will lead an interagency effort on best-in-class technologies, sharing of best practices, and safeguarding of our networks.
- Strengthen the role of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) by appointing experts who are charged to provide independent advice on critical issues of science and technology. The PCAST will once again be advisory to the president.
- Restore the science integrity of government and restore transparency of decision- making by issuing an Executive Order establishing clear guidelines for the review and release of government publications, guaranteeing that results are released in a timely manner and not distorted by the ideological biases of political appointees. I will strengthen protection for "whistle blowers" who report abuses of these processes.
Not bad. But check the rest of Obama's answers out… and also be sure to ask John McCain why he won't take the same test.