A Demand For a Presidential Debate on Science

We must demand a debate on science. We know where Huckabee and Tancredo stand (1858), but we don't know much about their (hopefully) more sophisticated fellow candidates.
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Tonight on PBS, Nova is presenting a documentary about Kitzmiller v. Dover, the evolution versus intelligent design trial that took place in the fall of 2005. It is called "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design On Trial." I know the subject well, having written extensively about it, and the title is far too modest. What was on trial was not a single pseudoscientific anachronism, but our attitude to life itself.

In 1973, eminent geneticist and evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution." The scientific community now considers evolution as well-proven as the theory of gravity. No other idea on earth is so overwhelmingly supported by evidence and yet so widely rejected. It is rejected by, among others, two presidential candidates, Huckabee and Tancredo.

This denial -- of facts, of reality -- is dangerous. To quote entomologist E.O. Wilson, humans are "the first species in the history of life to become a geophysical force." We are now capable, by various means, of seriously damaging the habitat which sustains us, perhaps permanently. This problem, or more accurately, these many linked problems, can only be understood and solved through science. An American president who is scientifically ignorant -- or worse, disdains the scientific method altogether -- is no longer just a fool or an opportunist, but an embodiment of destruction.

In this interminable process, where presidential candidates squander months barging into diners to promiscuously swap platitudes with old and young, it must be possible to find a few hours to debate something substantial: our survival.

We must demand a debate on science and technology. We know where Huckabee and Tancredo stand (1858), but we don't know much about their (hopefully) more sophisticated fellow candidates. As citizens, we have a right to know: do the people seeking the most powerful job on earth understand the world?

In the next few days I am going to launch a petition asking for this debate. I hope that someone reading this piece will help me persuade a scientific organization or organizations, a university, a science magazine, a science TV show, or some combination of them all, to issue an irresistible invitation to the candidates.

In any event, please join me in asking that the following matters be discussed:

Climate Change. Species Loss. Drought, Pollution, Ownership Of Water. Population And Its Affect On Environment. Alternative Energy Research. Global Diseases And Pandemics. Stem Cell Research. Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria. Vaccination Programs. Drug Patents And Generic Drugs. Space Exploration. The Genome And Its Uses. Commerce And Science. Government Policy and Science. And Science Education.

Meanwhile, check out "Judgment Day" at 8 p.m tonight. It shows the problem, and part of the solution (thanks to a remarkable Republican judge), in miniature.

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