More on the science debate

By Phil Plait | December 12, 2007 1:05 pm

In an earlier post I talked about getting a Presidential science debate going. Chris Mooney and writer/scientist Lawrence Krauss have written an Op/Ed for the LA Times about it as well.

I’ll let you read it on your own, but I want to point out this part:

When you think about it, the need for a debate on science is incontrovertible. It would reveal which candidates are best equipped to tackle contentious science-based issues, and it would help raise the level of scientific literacy across the board in this country.

A recent National Academy of Sciences’ report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” suggests that the United States may soon falter in the global economy without a concerted effort to ensure continuing technological innovation and competitiveness.

Bang! Right on the money. We can argue about how science is important to explore the world and reality, and it’s true and critical. But politicians typically won’t care about that. However, if we tell them that America’s economy and prosperity depend on science — things they can use high-falutin’ words on during the stumping — then they are far more likely to listen.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics, Science

Comments (11)

Links to this Post

  1. Sciencedebate 2008 « What’s new | December 13, 2007
  1. Dan

    If only. The problem still remains that it’s a heck of a lot easier for a politician to appeal to a person’s superstitions and emotions than it is their minds.

    I’d love to see an actual debate on science, however. Unfortunately, the only answers you’d most-like hear would be along the lines of “Trust me. I will surround myself with the most educated minds in this country to solve these problems, blah blah blah…”

  2. Falter? But I thought we had so much money because gawd loves us thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis much. Oh, it’s not? You mean humans had to actually build this society?

    Oh…well then…carry on…

  3. Ad Hominid

    GOP candidate speaking: “As President Reagan said, evolution is a theory, a theory only, and all points of view should be respected equally.”

    Same candidate thinking: “It’s humiliating as all getout to sound like a supersititious peasant but those polls say I don’t have any choice.”

    Creationism: So easy a caveman could do it.

    Oh, wait, a caveman did do it. Never mind.

  4. Ryan

    I think any scientist (or citizen?) with half a brain could have told Bush 7 years ago that spending 1 Trillion dollars to revamp the energy industry with new and innovative technologies (breeder reactors, hydrogen fuel/better battery tech, cellulosic ethanol, plasma gassification, solar power satelites etc.) would have freed us from oil for all time by 2010, and done more damage to his axis of evil by robbing them of their source of income than spending 1 trillion dollars and untold lives in a military situation could do. In addition it would have launched the US back into its possition of technological dominance. I can also tell you that he wouldn’t have listened for half a second: he got rich off of oil money, why make oil obsolete? Politicians will continue to serve themselves instead of the country. It’s painfully obvious that we should be spending money building our own economy in the same way we did fifty years ago: through science and technology. It made our country a superpower. It’s also painfully obvious that the people in power today can only see what put them there and have no taste for advancement at the possible cost of getting knocked off the top of the hill. As much as I would love to see a debate focused around science and technology I do not believe it will happen, and even if it does I do not believe it will have any lasting effect.

  5. I think World War II was a good example of why having a strong scientific community can contribute meaningfully to the prosperity of a country. Many of the scientists who contributed to the winning side of the war effort were rejects from the losing countries that did not value them (to their own literal peril).

    That sentiment should especially appeal to the conservative types who want to ensure the strength of the U.S. in the world militarily, not to mention economically.

  6. BaldApe

    I don’t know which is sadder, the scientific illiteracy of the politicians, the press, or the audience for these debates.

    The point is, a debate on science moderated by the spineless press, will be won by the person who can make the mindless audience see that they won’t let those pesky facts get in the way of sound policy. Most people don’t understand science well enough not to buy herbal supplements, don’t understand math well enough not to buy lottery tickets, don’t understand economics well enough to reject Voodoo economics, ……..

    About the best we can hope for is to make all of our politicians international laughing stocks.

  7. revmonkeyboy

    I fully support a science debate. I do not think it will be easy. I do not think candidates will do well. I think we should use it to make science take a higher profile. We should do it to educate the masses, to spark the interest. We are truly falling behind. We should fight with every strategy we can. Sputnik sparked a revolution in America, it can be done. Scientists need to engage the public, Carl Sagan showed us how. Phil is doing great work, but where are the biologists, and other fields? Interest is not that hard to spark. The debate is a good tactic, we should use it. It will not be done overnight, but it can be done. We should all be willing to jump into the fight, our enemies are more than willing to do so. We can make science and reason popular again. We just have to be willing to do so. We need to get over our fear of not being scientific enough. We need to be members of the public. Standing on the sidelines has done us great harm. In short wake up.

    Do not let the media ask the questions, let the scientists ask the questions. They deserve the spotlight more than the media ever will.

  8. Stuart

    Sputnik energised the US because it represented a real and tangible existential threat. If the Reds could put a satellite in orbit, they could drop a nuke on the US. Cue the space-race. (It wasn’t just pride at stake!)

    But now the Red Menace is gone. And TPTB know darn well that The Brown Menace is a racist, over-hyped political pawn, not a real threat. No matter what the bed-wetters think, no matter what mistakes are made, there will never be general Sharia law in the US. (One or two Muslim neighbourhoods don’t count.)

    “This has what to do with the topic at hand?” I hear you ask.

    Well, maybe the US has gotten “soft” since the fall of the USSR. The politicians couldn’t be bothered with science and technology (except for where it provides pork), since there isn’t (in their minds) any external threat that could upset their comfortable little lives.

    Now, the only thing they fear is Democracy. The process that gave them both power and a cushy, high-paying job, could just as easily take it away from them. (This is true, to some extent, of all politicians in all democracies.)

    So, it’s more important to pull the wool over the eyes of the “sheep”, and to subtly (and not-so-subtly) subvert democracy, than it is to ensure the military and economic security of their own countrymen.

    Think “last days of the Roman Empire” and you’re getting close.

  9. Quiet_Desperation

    However, if we tell them that America’s economy and prosperity depend on science — things they can use high-falutin’ words on during the stumping — then they are far more likely to listen.

    No, they aren’t. They all got to within a couple elections of the US Presidency by doing the same old same old, so they are not going to suddenly believe that the general public as a whole will suddenly care about science and math regardless of its positive effects.

    Sadly, the one time any of them use anything resembling scientific method is by following what theories of political victory actually work and avoiding the ones proven to fail (or at least not work as well).

    I appreciate what you and other public skeptics do, Phil, but I really feel like we’re all King Canute sometimes.

    For those who may not know, Canute was the king who tried to command the tide not to come in and, yes, I know he was doing it to prove a point, not to actually stop the tide.

  10. The Toledo 19

    The Brown Menace is a racist

    Can someone explain to me how not thinking well of Islam, a RELIGION, is racist? Or has the world “racist” been tossed around so carelessly that it has lost all meaning?

    These days the word “racist” translates to: “I have no real arguments, and analyzing the complex facts of the real world is too much effort, so I’ll just end the conversation with name calling.”

    Here’s a whole site that scrutinizes Islam around the world:

    Written mostly by former Muslims. Are they racist, too?

    And a fine example of misuse of racist claims:

    No matter what the bed-wetters think, no matter what mistakes are made, there will never be general Sharia law in the US.

    Is there anyone outside the Mike Savage Singularity that even makes this claim? Sounds like a strawman.

    Now, the only thing they fear is Democracy.

    If you really think that, you have ***ZERO*** understanding of the problem. Politicians LOVE Democracy. Democracy is their bitch.


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