Science Debate 2008: As good as YHN might have predicted

Sep 02 2008 Published by under NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics, Science Politics

I am happy to call a win for the ScienceDebate effort. A qualified win but a big win, nonetheless. Also major props for Mooney and The Kirsh who were main movers in this effort. This is especially important for me to recognize because I have been a bit skeptical from the start. For example when I first heard of this in December 2007 I thought:

... this is way too late to actually hope for a debate. All they can possibly hope for is a couple of questions raised at a "regular" debate.

and in February 2008 in the midst of primary season I also said:

I'm a skeptic on a tactical level that this can be pulled off. I do, however, think that there is a good chance this effort may get 5-10 questions asked of the candidates in the already-scheduled or already-in-negotiation debates. Wouldn't we like one of them to be "What in the heck are you going to do about the NIH"?

So while admitting my overall skeptic stance on this ScienceDebate thing has been pleasantly surprised, I'm also bragging on how accurate my predictions were. Ha.
Today's point is that the candidates have answered some ScienceDebate questions in written form (well, one of them has anyway).

Barack Obama's answers appear below. John McCain has said he will also answer the questions.

Discussion from juniorprof, Island of Doubt, Coturnix, Effect Measure, Nick Anthis and The Intersection.
My most pressing questions of interest parallel juniorprof's. I'm sure you are shocked.
Obama on Stem Cells:

I strongly support expanding research on stem cells. I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations. As president, I will lift the current administration's ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.
I am also aware that there have been suggestions that human stem cells of various types, derived from sources other than embryos, make the use of embryonic stem cells unnecessary. I don't agree. While adult stem cells, such as those harvested from blood or bone marrow, are already used for treatment of some diseases, they do not have the versatility of embryonic stem cells and cannot replace them.

Holy. Moly. This is important far, far, FAR beyond stem cells. What this means is that this is a presidential candidate willing to go on record opposing wackaloon theological imposition of belief on our best understanding of verifiable reality. The positions are informed and beyond all bloody belief he takes personal responsibility for coming to a decision. Not "Most credible scientists say..", Not "My panel of Nobel Laureates tell me..". A simple "I don't agree". Wow. From appearances he considered the evidence and came to a personal decision and plans to take responsibility for it. Wow.

Obama on Science Integrity:

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;

DrugMonkey is willing and able to serve Senator Obama! Just sayin' 🙂 Maybe you can get Solly Rivlin too, I bet he'd clear his schedule for your goal to:

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;

Ahh, sorry. Couldn't help myself.
Obama on NIH funding and young scientist careers:

after a period of growth of the life sciences, the NIH budget has been steadily losing buying power for the past six years. As a result, our science agencies are often able to support no more than one in ten proposals that they receive, arresting the careers of our young scientists and blocking our ability to pursue many remarkable recent advances. Furthermore, in this environment, scientists are less likely to pursue the risky research that may lead to the most important breakthroughs. Finally, we are reducing support for science at a time when many other nations are increasing it, a situation that already threatens our leadership in many critical areas of science.
This situation is unacceptable. As president, I will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade
Second, we can provide greater support for high-risk, high-return research and for young scientists at the beginning of their careers.

Before ol' GrumpyGus jumps in here to tell us how this is all pie in the sky, let me just point out that the important thing here is that Obama is listening. Or his key staff are listening, whatever. He gets the NIH Un-doubling phenomenon. Or, at the very least, the biomedical price index analysis of buying power. He is aware of the young investigator conundrum. I am not naive enough to think that any candidate can deliver every one of his campaign promises. It is only important that they are saying the right thing. I think Senator Obama is saying all the right things. ((R)revere(s) are more critical.)
I am eagerly awaiting Senator McCain's promised answers to the same questions.

4 responses so far

  • juniorprof says:

    I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that McCain's answers will never come.

  • Yeah, i'm afraid juniorprof may be right. . . I was going to post on this, but decided to wait to see if we ever get McCain's perspective. It's not a "debate" regardless, but it *would* be more useful for people to be able to compare. . .

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Whether McCain responds or not is not too relevant to me. For this ScienceDebate stuff, I do hope they are in this for the long haul. The value in this is not in getting specific candidates to answer particular questions in a way that you would prefer. It is in moving questions of science, and thoughtful informed answers to same, into the mainstream of political activity. I think having one of the questions appear in a live debate would be better, but getting a formal response from at least one party's nominee is a win.

  • juniorprof says:

    Couldn't agree more, DM. Questions on science and technology have a way of cutting though the crap that much of the other issues just cannot get at. It is readily apparent, for instance, from Obama's answers that his campaign (maybe even Obama himself?) gets it. They understand the concepts that are behind these questions and they seem to get that these questions have an impact on our position in the world economy. It is a unique window into the brains of a campaign that I don't think we can get from opinions or positions on many other issues.
    What I do think would be interesting is to see how McCain's campaign answers to these questions might have varied before and after he chose Palin as VP. For instance, I might have expected a completely different position on embryonic stem cells prior to the Palin choice. I can only cringe in thinking about his campaign may answer that question now.

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