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Politicians talking science

The proposal to have a presidential science debate has been getting a surprising amount of traction. After ringing up a billion prominent endorsements, the organizers of the proposed debate have now picked a date (April 18) and have sent out invitations to the remaining candidates.


The idea behind Science Debate 2008 is straightforward:

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.

Curious: what do people think of this?

I’m a bit conflicted, for a few reasons. The first is that I suspect the event will be less enlightening than people hope. Presidential debates consist mainly of sound bites and point-scoring, and this one will likely be no different. Another concern is that science itself may come off badly. The politicization of science is a real problem in the U.S., and it’s not hard to imagine a debate exacerbating that problem. Of course, an intelligent choice of format can help a lot here.

I’m not the only one to raise such concerns. But a long list of luminaries feel otherwise, and I confess that I also signed the petition in favor of the debate. Why? Because there are too many issues we simply never hear about. Whatever its chance for success, the science debate seems like a worthwhile experiment.

Your thoughts? (If you’re in favor, you can voice support the cause here.)

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