Monday, February 11, 2008

Science Debate 2008

Science is important. It will be more important in April because of:
You don't know how catchy that sounds until you speak it aloud. Say it with me, "Science Debate 2008." Now with syncopation. Now in a group with your friends. There we go - that should be enough to convince you. If not, continue reading.

A couple of units of time ago (I'd put my money on months), I signed up to support Science Debate 2008. I have to be honest, though: I wasn't entirely sure what I was supporting. In principle, the idea is easy: collect the remaining standing presidential candidates to answer questions about science, health and the environment. Among my many questions about this concept were: Would candidates for president actually all come together to debate science? How would you involve Democrats and Republicans before the nominations were set? Would people care?

I underestimated the mobilizing power of Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum of The Intersection. They have collected a wide range of Nobel Laureates, university presidents, politicians, science bloggers and regular Joes to endorse the idea. And now with the help of the AAAS, the National Academies and other major institutions of science, a date has been selected and the four remaining candidates have been invited Philadelphia's Franklin Institute to talk about science.

How appropriate! In the tradition of Franklin's Junto, these four leaders will come together to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy. Yes, I too can dream.

Is your name among the list of supporters? It isn't? Head to this site to sign up. Don't think it matters? You're wrong! There are currently 13,000 signed on to this idea. The networks and media folks need to see an interest among the people to make coverage effective. That's you! They're current goal is 20,000. If you want to do more, contact the campaigns or write letters to your newspaper. If you wish to consider this more carefully, head over to Nature magazine's story about Science Debate 2008. They remain skeptical of the idea, but I believe their criticisms are mostly hollow.

This debate could have an impact on Pennsylvania's primary or could be one of the first formal interactions between the presumed nominees from each party. Either way, I think Ben Franklin would be proud.


Anonymous said...

But since it seems that all of the candidates are effectively scientifically illiterate - is there a real point?

thomas said...

Actually, yes. Candidates maybe functionally illiterate at the most basic levels, but globally literate. For example, Hillary Clinton has outlined the most sweeping change to government in terms of health care and scientific competitiveness since Medicare and the Space Race. She has no degree in science, but understands its importance.