Alas, in a big election year, even an international science conference isn’t safe from politics.
Representatives from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were here to debate their candidates’ takes on various scientific issues (McCain and Huckabee were also invited, but declined). The debate took place in response to the many esteemed scientists, governmental leaders, educators, and writers at “Science Debate 2008” who have voiced a demand for a presidential debate on science and technology. The group has officially invited the candidates to debate in April, but AAAS wanted to host an exclusive preview for the journalists and scientists at this conference. So how do the democratic frontrunners feel about the issues in science and technology?
Not surprisingly, they agree on pretty much every issue. Neither rep presented any issue that was very contentious or new. The take-home message from both campaigns was a generally warm fuzzy thumbs up for science. Both Hillary and Barack says that scientific research and technological innovation are necessary to bolster our economy and position the United States as a global power and, consequently, they both support more funding for scientific research (Clinton’s rep specified that she would impressively triple the number of NSF funds).
Both reps want to increase the use of technology in the health care system (Obama’s a big supporter of electronic medical records), and both are strongly in support of research into climate change (Clinton wants to devote significantly more funding to Earth Sciences, and Obama’s rep spoke more about clean tech and biofuels).
As for their styles, Obama’s representative, young and casually dressed, referred the audience to his candidate’s website in response to pretty much every question, while Clinton’s representative, older, clean-cut, and formally dressed (who packed in a number of surprisingly good one-liners), went through a Power Point presentation that outlined his candidate’s issues. And like all televised political debates, the debaters were successful at cramming in as many sound bites as they possibly could.
But overall, the debate was encouraging, if only because it shows that politicians are finally giving science some well-deserved attention. The AAAS conference-goers eagerly showed their appreciation, completely packing the aisles and sending piles of questions to the moderator. None of the presidential candidates have accepted the invitation to debate in April (although both Obama and Clinton are seriously considering it, according to their reps), but if they do, it will mark the first true introduction of science into the public political discourse. Which, as anyone who has applied for federal funding is well-aware, couldn’t hurt.