Presidential science debate: we need your help

By Phil Plait | February 11, 2008 10:47 am

This post is about a Presidential science debate, and we need your help! Please see below for how you can help make this happen.


There is no doubt — none — that science plays a major role in our lives today. There is also no doubt that science has been under vicious attack by politics recently as well, from Plan B to Fish and Wildlife to stem cells to evolution and beyond.

That is why a large group of scientists and science writers has been gathered to promote a Presidential debate on science. This idea has been gathering steam, and is now a major force. The National Academy of Sciences just signed on, for example, and the list of supporters is awesome to behold.

This force was started by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum from the science blog The Intersection, and they have now announced that the Presidential candidates have been officially invited to participate in a science debate!

You read that right: this is for realz. We want the candidates to stand on stage and talk about their stance on various topics in science, and discuss the policies they have about scientific issues. We already know how many of them feel on various issues, but this would be a chance for them to debate, air out their policies, and see who stands where.

Here is the actual invitation sent to Clinton, Obama, Huckabee, and McCain.

The invitation is clear that this is not a science quiz, it is a debate on policy:

The debate may include such policy issues as: American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research; policy approaches to climate change; clean energy; the healthcare crisis; science education and technology in schools; scientific integrity; GM agriculture; transportation infrastructure; immigration; the genome; data privacy; intellectual property; pandemic diseases; the health of the oceans; water resources; stem cells; conservation and species loss; population; the space program, and others.

This is a policy debate. It is not intended to be a science quiz. Nor are we interested in state-level battles such as the evolution versus creationism/ID debate. Our goal is to find out how aware candidates are of America’s major science and technology problems and opportunities, and how they propose to offer the kind of visionary leadership and policy solutions that will tackle those challenges and ensure America’s place as the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation on earth. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are such a leader.

Cooooool. The debate is scheduled for April 18 at The Franklin Institute.

To make this a reality — let’s face it, we want to pressure the candidates into accepting — we need your help. Here’s what we need you to do:

1. Contact the campaigns, and tell them to attend ScienceDebate2008! A list of contact information for the campaigns can be found here.

2. Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers, raising further awareness about this initiative. Some handy letter writing tips can be found here.

3. Tell a friend about ScienceDebate2008 (handy link here). We need to spread the word as much as possible at this critical time. We’re at 13,000 supporters right now; we want to get to 15,000 supporters by the end of the week and 20,000 supporters by the end of the month.

I know that well over 20,000 people read my blog (and it’s probably closer to twice that). If half of you sign up, we’ll blow right past what we need, and if even a fraction write letters to the campaigns, this will become a reality. Just like that. I will be sending out my letters very soon (I’ll post the copy on the blog when I do).

We have a chance to be active in our own leadership here beyond just pulling a lever in November. Let’s make this happen.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics, Science

Comments (50)

  1. Mister Earl

    I’ve signed it.

  2. Celtic_Evolution

    signed, sealed, delivered…

  3. BigBadSis

    I’ve sent the link to all my kids’ past and present science teachers and the science department chairs of my local public schools. Next are the candidates!

  4. Tom

    Your action #1 (contact the campaigns) appears to have a bad link. It took me to an interview with the Chief Counsel for SpaceX.

  5. billsmithaz

    @Tom – that link isn’t a direct link to the campaigns, but it has e-mail and fax links for each of them in the right sidebar.

  6. Quiet_Desperation

    OK, what the heck.

    By the way, what’s Plan B? Did I miss that one?

    Pick one:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_B

  7. If Science is under attack, and religion is under attack, who is doing all the attacking and why?

  8. Todd

    Signed and joined the Facebook group.

    @Rational Zen – Science is under attack from people like our current president, who has manipulated scientific studies and reports in order to support his policies, according to testimony by government scientists. Also, the ID/Creationist movement is attacking science. Meanwhile, the religious folks say that religion is under attack by evolution supporters and those who argue for the separation of church and state. There may be other aspects, but I think those are the biggies.

  9. Redx

    one more on the bandwagon.

  10. Will. M

    BA:
    Done. Will send more to others outside of CA later.
    WM

  11. Melusine

    When would they want this debate? Clearly they are too busy now trying to meet people. It would have to be after most of the primaries are over, which is completely understandable.

    the debate may include such policy issues as: American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research; policy approaches to climate change; clean energy; the healthcare crisis; science education and technology in schools; scientific integrity; GM agriculture; transportation infrastructure; immigration; the genome; data privacy; intellectual property; pandemic diseases; the health of the oceans; water resources; stem cells; conservation and species loss; population; the space program, and others.

    I already know most of their stands on these issues (at least Hillary’s and Barack’s) – they’re on their sites as well as in their voting records. It would be interesting, though, to put it in front of the public to bring awareness of how important these issues are. I’ll sign it for sure.

  12. flynjack

    excellent idea count me in.

  13. Melusine

    Oh, I’m not a scientist – it seems like they want mainly science folks. Does caring A LOT about conservation, park lands, clean oceans, etc. qualify to sign?

  14. JackC

    Done and done, Bwanna

  15. The arguments against such a debate (that Nature had made freely available on the web but apparently no longer, tsk …) are quite convincing, actually. Their funny editorial is still there and also worth reading. Plus beware that campaigns can backfire bigtime! Vast numbers of space buffs voted at Politico in January to have space-related questions asked during the last two CNN presidential debates – and not a single one was used in the end …

  16. Pat

    It is a classic conflict between naked grasping for power under the guise of religion and insert enemy here.

    Part of a test of power is stifling dissent or perceived dissent. If none is found, it is manufactured in trifling errata of doctrine. This normally happens within and among religions because of the inherent absolutism. Lack of accomodation is then used as a premise for overthrow, citing the inflated doctrinal slight as assault or subversion.

    It so happens that science is not an enemy of religion except where religion chooses to make it so. It has made it so partly because science and scientific thought tend to refute extraordinary claims of miracles and visions. Even though it is human perception that is at fault, the messenger is assailed instead. Science has been made a de facto enemy of those in power.

    For those at home: stifling dissent is not the same as the scientific process. There is no scientific establishment. Science specializes in dissent: it is the process by which it is refined. If anything it is a gaggle of opposition parties, and we need to reign in the natural garrulousness of scientists when dealing with the architects of grabs for power.

    It is probably this natural tendency towards dissent that is also infuriating to those grabbing for power. It is hard to cow a scientist.

  17. The link for the candidate contact information is off. The right link is http://www.actionforspace.com/

    I signed it

  18. TLB

    All of the “debates” so far have been simply opportunities for the candidates to give speeches. The ones that have featured user submissions were hampered by gatekeepers with their own agenda. Based on what I’ve seen so far, this “debate” would be no different.

    For instance, CNN didn’t ask this question which has since gone on to get over 47,000 views: youtube.com/watch?v=1KxDhesWutc

    Instead, they asked much weaker questions about that topic:
    youtube.com/watch?v=nIbDAVQMKGM
    youtube.com/watch?v=wm0uWz2BS9M

    A much better way to select user-generated questions is described here:
    nomoreblather.com/how-to-make-the-cnn-youtube-debate-worthwhile

    And, a much better way to conduct a debate is described here:
    http://nomoreblather.com/policy-debates

    Based only on what I’ve seen so far, I’m going to guess they don’t want a real debate.

  19. I have sign up as well go team!

  20. Kirk

    I’m in. I am not an astronomer, just an old engineer & businessman. Lived with my family in Asia (HKG & Tokyo) for 6 years in the early 90′s and worked / travelled frequently throughout region. The rest of the world is not worried about “god in science” they are simply out to “eat our lunch”. The real “war” is economic and, as far as I am concerned, if we continue to be internally focused we will wake up one day as a 2nd class country.

  21. I call “Bogosity.”

    They’re only inviting the “viable” candidates. And how are they deciding which candidates are viable? By…POLLS!!!

    They complain about the abuse of science, and they themselves use Bad Science to decide whom to invite. Talk about irony!!!

  22. Mus

    I signed up weeks ago, and now I’m trying to get my friends to sign up :)

  23. ScienceTeacher

    A copy and paste of my comment from the original post on this topic…

    This sounds like a great idea, until reality sets in. Once the TV producers get hold of it they will make sure no scientist is involved in any way and that it is moderated by Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, or someone else that won’t hold the candidates to the issue. I can see the exchange already…

    Moderator: Mr. candidate, studies show that American children are falling behind in science when compared to children from around the world. What policies and procedures do you think are necessary to reverse this trend?

    Candidate: Well thank you for bringing up this important issue Anderson. I do believe science education is important, and I’ve said this consistently throughout my campaign. I believe it is almost as important as health care for children. Did you know there are 85 kagillion children in the U.S. without healthcare? Isn’t that terrible? What is a single mother to do? I want all the single mothers out there to know that I feel their pain, and that if elected I will make it my mission to see that you are able to take your children to the doctor and get them whatever medical care they need. So in conclusion I do think science education is important. Thank you.

  24. ScienceTeacher: At least Giuliani’s out of the race now. That would have been:

    “I believe science education is very important. I learned that in 9/11, when I took control and managed the fine men and women of the NYFD and managed that crisis. Science education is sorta like that kind of stuff. Oh, and 9/11 9/11 9/11.”

  25. ioresult

    Does it make any sense to sign up if we’re not US citizens?

  26. PerryG

    Signed and shared with all my facebook friends…

  27. Jeffersonian

    Wait…it supports bipartisanism? I can’t ice out third parties by supporting that. This is exactly how that happens.

  28. GapStop

    Why wasn’t George Phillies invited? He knows more on the subject than the rest of those hacks.

    Williamsville Central High School (Salutatorian)

    Bachelor of Science in physics and in life sciences (MIT)

    Master of Science and Doctor of Science (MIT, Physics)

  29. Doug

    Too bad Romney’s out … I would have loved to hear his views.

  30. Todd writes:

    [[Meanwhile, the religious folks say that religion is under attack by evolution supporters and those who argue for the separation of church and state.]]

    As a Christian myself (Christianity is a religion), I do not see any threat to my faith from either evolution or the separation of church and state. I like evolutionary biology and I like the idea of church-state separation — which originated, by the way, in the Christian middle ages, with the ideas of the separate kingdoms, political and ecclesiastical.

    I do see a threat to religious people from folks like Daniel Dennett, who wants to put us in cages, and Richard Dawkins, who wants to ban religious schools and treat religious faith as a mental illness. Does that sort of thing disturb you at all, or do you shrug it off because it’s from someone who agrees with your worldview?

  31. sirjonsnow

    It’s on my birthday!

    Can I have free tickets?

  32. Bunk

    Emails sent to each campaign, but the email addy for McCain is getting bumped back as undeliverable. I went to the McCain website and was unable to locate any other contact info. I sent an email to the Huckabee campaign too, though I don’t know why.

    Don’t worry, Barton, we’ll use nice cages and when the knife cuts away your soul, you’ll hardly feel a thing. (Did I say that out loud?)

    I meant to say that being delusional and being mentally ill are not equivalent. We all have our delusions.

  33. I do no intend to contact any of the phony, corporate funded “viable” candidates/.

    There’s only one candidate, viable or not, who has the correct, honest answers. That person is Senator Mike Gravel. However, he is being excluded from this forum just as he has been excluded from the corporate owned major media. I didn’t hear of any qualifying rules before Intel entered the picture!

    Why isn’t he “viable?” How are people supposed to know his views and ideas for the future of this country…from a few minutes on the early debates he was permitted to participate in?

    He is now being shut out from Sciencedebate2008 as he has been shut out from the recent televised debates and other media appearances.

    I am sorry that I supported Sciencedebate2008 from the beginning. It will be as phony as all the other debates.

  34. Angel Smith

    I agree with the previous e-mail, who are you to decide what is “viable”. Let us hear from Senator Gravel! He has more experience and has done more in office than the other candidates in his first term.

  35. @Todd

    @Rational Zen – Science is under attack from people like our current president, who has manipulated scientific studies and reports in order to support his policies, according to testimony by government scientists. Also, the ID/Creationist movement is attacking science. Meanwhile, the religious folks say that religion is under attack by evolution supporters and those who argue for the separation of church and state. There may be other aspects, but I think those are the biggies.

    In the first sentence substitute Science with Islam and current president with the USA, and I think you’re on to something.

    Oh wait, there’s already other people echoing the same “sky is falling” mentality.

    I think it’s funny that people mock GW Bush for being less intelligent yet smart enough to manipulate science to create policy. So he’s either brilliant, or stupid, but not both.

    FWIW, I think all of our policy makers are light on the science of things, and those that are qualified to do the studies (take the EPA for example) are powerless to do real work and experiments because their funding is coming directly from those law makers that won’t understand what they are about to tell them. So they dumb it down a bit, and the science gets lost.

    I just think it’s funny that this blog had to resort to shocking buzz words to garner support, yet often derides religious and other people for being guilty of the same.

  36. GapStop

    I have nothing against fiscal conservatism, but Bush is not fiscally responsible. I doubt he does much with policy when he has a cabinet that he can turn to. As for replacing Science for Islam in that statement you run into a little problem. Science = Explanation of nature based on evidence. Islam / Any religion = Explanation based on made up crap with no validity. There is no equivalence among the two.

  37. Nihilodei

    There are two things I would like to point out here;

    1) science is everything to us, if we were seeking grubs under a pile of leaf litter using a rock and a stick, your opening paragraph would be correct.
    2) you are sinking deeper into a vernacular that is unnecessary on a scientific based site. I would suggest that if you were truly the author you claim you are, you would write in a manner that is both informative and interesting.

    But until you get your points across in an appropriate manner, I will have to get “jiggy with you whitey”.

    I truly hope that is not offensive.

  38. GapStop, you sort of missed the point.

    I’m laughing that the rational, logical, skeptical people in the world are resorting to the same tactics (effective as they may be) used by those people they have been deriding for years.

    On this blog alone how many times have you heard religious people and government called out for using fear to motivate people to turn to their cause.

    I think it’s funny that it’s now being done right here right now. I was never equating science with religion, the ends are very different and in my mind mutually exclusive but that explanation is for a different day and place I’m sure.

    I was pointing out that their means to their end happens to be the same, yet on one side they are called to the carpet but on the other it seems to be perfectly acceptable.

    True skeptics would see right through the marketing hype and remain inactive like me ;) The rest of the sheeple signed the petition.

  39. GapStop writes:

    [[Any religion = Explanation based on made up crap with no validity.]]

    Don’t beat around the bush, Bones, tell me what you really think.

  40. Nihilodei

    Irrational Zen,

    Cool moniker that, my 14 year old thought she invented it.

    Truth of the matter is, nobody wants non scientific subjects taught in science. We don’t want rubbish taught in art class and for Cod sake… we want English taught in English class.

    It’s wasting the student’s time and the school’s resources teaching unpublished conjecture.

    Personally, I set my students straight every year I get them. If they want to debate religion, do it at the appropriate time. I am totally willing to deconstruct what they want. Why, because 99% of religious people only talk the talk. I have only had one Adamist and one creationist (which is hilarious if you consider where I worked at the time).

    Mind you, scientists do get funny ideas.. I worked with a physicist who was doing his PhD on photon energy measurement who was convinced the speed of light was slowing down (he turned out to be a creationist) and I work with a physicist now who thinks Lamarck had it right.

    Neither of these two would teach that rot in a science class. Not because they fear talking about it, they just know its not substantiated.

    Now that is no scare tactic and i am in a hurry to get to my apologist homeopath.. She gives me a recipe for vitamin C that will cure glomerulo-nephritis for only half a year… not like the charlatan down the street who gave me a trillion year script!

    Afaeodontism, stand up for your roots!

  41. Michal Mudd

    I concur with the Gravel folks and those before who decried the efforts of Science Debate 2008 to ignore and disenfranchise third party candidates and those of us who support them!!
    I was excited by the prospect of a non-partisan effort to interject concerns about scientific issues into the political maelstrom often taken over by frivolity, i.e. lapel pins and renegade ministers.
    BUT now I see that this entire effort is no more than a thinly veiled ploy by the partisans, namely Democratic partisans, to get their candidate publicity and support that he/she apparently couldn’t care less about.
    Meanwhile, assertions that it was only the McCain campaign that responded is patently wrong.
    Three Green Party candidates responded that they would be available and quite interested in taking part, yet they were given the complete brush off!
    Why won’t your organization schedule a debate and announce that minor party candidates will be in attendance and then see if the so-called “viable” candidates dare be represented with an empty podium and the scorn of the scientific community?
    Or would you much rather just wait until they actually do nothing about our issues in office and get the “i told you so’s?”

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