A Call for a Presidential Debate on Science and Technology Policy

This is the longest running presidential race in history, and yet no event is scheduled in which the candidates are asked to focus on the two most pressing social issues of our time.
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"Science Debate 2008," launched today by a group of concerned citizens, is calling for a Presidential Debate on Science and Technology policy. 2007-12-12-sciencedebate2008.jpg

Science Debate 2008 already has the support of almost sixty eminent scientists (including 11 Nobel laureates), business leaders, journalists and editors (including the editors in chief of both Science and Scientific American), politicians (including several members of Congress and two former Science Advisers to the President), the president of Princeton, and several presidents of large science organizations.

This is the longest running presidential race in history, and yet no event is scheduled in which the candidates are asked to focus on the two most pressing social issues of our time: science and technology. We are asking the candidates to take time out of their busy schedules for this because nothing could be more important.

If you go to ScienceDebate2008.com, you will see who we are, who has signed the initial letter, and the list of issues we believe should be discussed by the candidates. They fall under three broad categories: Health And Medicine; the Environment; and Science and Technology Policy.

When you think about it, it is peculiar that debates on these vital issues are not already an integral part of the electoral process. We want to make sure they become so.

Our idea, which is already flourishing in the blogosphere, has generated great enthusiasm, but also received some initial criticisms. One of these is the suggestion that the candidates simply are not equipped to talk about science. We disagree. The candidates do not need a degree in economics in order to talk about the economy, nor do they require one in science in order to discuss science.

We are not proposing a pop quiz or an argument, but rather, we are suggesting an illuminating debate. The electorate should have the opportunity to hear the candidates discuss their policy positions on our many scientific and technological challenges, what their ethical positions are in relation to them, and what their aspirations are.

We do not approach discussion of these issues with a gloomy or adversarial attitude. Along with such people as Newt Gingrich and many church leaders, we acknowledge there are serious problems that must be faced, that we have a moral obligation to face them, but also that within these problems lie opportunities that can bring out the best in the entrepreneurial American spirit. America can be a leader in finding cures for our worst diseases, invent the best alternative energy sources, and graduate the most scientifically literate children in the world. But if optimism is not followed by sound policy, if we do not ensure that these things happen here, they will happen elsewhere and America will concede huge economic and humanitarian benefits to other countries.

The choice is ours. Whoever we elect will have to make these great decisions. They are decisions that will effect not only us and not only our immediate future, but the entire world for a very long time.

We already have an extraordinary group of signatories calling for Science Debate 2008. Additionally, a growing coalition of bloggers have joined us and we are encouraged by the tremendous level of enthusiasm expressed already. We now seek further support from individuals and groups from any part of the political, religious, and social spectrum.

We would like you to go to our website, ScienceDebate2008.com, and register your support for this important idea. But don't stop there. If you belong to a campaign, talk to your candidate and ask him or her to become a part of this. Send an email to the head of your party, Howard Dean, for Democrats, Mike Duncan for Republicans, and tell them you like this idea.

Matthew Chapman and Sheril Kirshenbaum are Science Debate 2008 steering committee members

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