During recent debates, the presidential candidates have talked about terrorism, gun control, Russia, Syria, Iran, Libya, immigration, war, abortion, taxes, feminism, education, religious liberty and even income inequality. But when it comes to science, they are more or less silent. This is strange because nothing will have a greater impact on our economy, our health and on the health of our planet. Science will, in fact, determine our entire future. Do science and technology therefore deserve a presidential debate all to themselves?
This is the contention of ScienceDebate.org whose supporters now include hundreds of science organizations; more than 20 Nobel Laureates; former energy secretary Dr. Steven Chu; Elon Musk of Tesla; numerous journalists, writers, artists and the actors Johnny Depp and Mark Ruffalo; over 100 universities and university presidents; many tech leaders; and tens of thousands of scientists, teachers, professors, doctors and ordinary voters.
In both 2008 and 2012, ScienceDebate.org persuaded Obama (twice) and McCain and Romney to give written responses to the organization's 14 Most Important Science Questions developed by its signatories. On both occasions when the candidates' answers were published in print and online, they reached over 800 million people. A recent poll found that 86% of American voters want the candidates to attend a science debate. This election, ScienceDebate.org has been joined by the National Geographic Channel as a potential broadcast partner for a live, televised debate.
* A cheaper and vastly improved method of gene editing (the CRISPR-Cas9 system) has great promise for curing diseases, but it raises such profound ethical issues that 500 scientists and legal experts convened a global summit to discuss whether researchers should be allowed to edit human genes as was done in China earlier in the year.
* The Paris climate agreement was a rare instance of politicians (from 195 countries) acting on matters that won't pay off until long after they've left office. In America, however, there is still opposition to even the idea of human involvement in climate change, so whether we'll implement the agreement depends to a large extent on the results of the coming election.
* Since Obama announced his Brain Initiative at the end of 2014, there have been fascinating developments in brain research, including the possibility that inflammation in the brain caused by the immune system might be responsible for such things as depression, autism and Alzheimer's disease. (Funding for research into mental illnesses, however, still remains low despite the devastating impact it has on families and on the American economy.)
* Ebola was the biggest disease story of the year, in part because of the hysteria and incompetence of terrified elected officials. Scientists, however, quietly went about the business of trying to understand the disease and provide a cure. A promising vaccine has now been developed. (As a side note, vaccines, the greatest public health benefit science has ever provided, is still "controversial" both on the right and the left.)
* Government funded space exploration brought new insights into Pluto and Mars. (And NASA continues to tell us a lot about our own planet and its health.)
* Scientific research into increased earthquake activity in Oklahoma strongly suggested that oil and gas exploration was responsible.
* Volkswagen admitted to a gigantic scam. Car computers tweaked diesel engines while they were being tested so they appeared to be compliant to environmental regulations, then caused them to revert to an illegal and dangerously toxic output when on the road.
* Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative which will award grants to organizations looking for "links between disease risk and genetic and environmental factors." This could eventually make medicine both more accurate and effective and also cheaper.
* There was a massive data breach in the US Office of Personnel Management computer system leading to the theft of over 21 million records. Apart from a few snide remarks about one candidate's email problems, cyber security has not been seriously debated.
* Meteorologists determined that 2015 was the world's hottest year since records began.
Among the many other issues not mentioned in either article are the potential dangers of artificial intelligence and robots; the fact that Russia and America still have about 1800 nuclear weapons pointed at each other; that species loss continues; and that oceans are polluted, getting fished out and are rising.
If, having read the above, you still don't think candidates should attend a debate where they discuss their science and technology policies, one can only hope the Brain Initiative soon finds a way to help you.
If, however, you're one of the millions of voters who want this debate, why not give yourself an end of year gift by supporting ScienceDebate.org?