Science Debate 2008 -- Take Two

Co-authored by Lawrence Krauss

On April 13, Messiah College in Pennsylvania will be hosting a "Compassion Forum," an event at which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will sit on the same stage and talk about "faith, values, and other current issues." John McCain has been invited but has not yet said if he will come. The event is being organized by Faith In Public Life and will be broadcast live on CNN. Each candidate will sit down individually with two "moderators." On April 20, the Sunday evening before the Pennsylvania primary, the Church Communication Network (CCN), will broadcast the event to "tens of thousands of people of faith in at least 1,000 congregations nationwide."

On April 16th, Clinton and Obama will attend a second, more conventional, debate at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, presumably focusing to some extent on constitutional issues. This will be broadcast by ABC.

Obviously, the candidates can accept whatever invitations they want, and these events, (at the former of which the candidates will discuss domestic and international poverty, global AIDS, climate change, genocide in Darfur, and human rights), are of great value and importance. As elections are all about choices, however, it is worth noting, that while Obama and Clinton accepted these invitations, they (and McCain) responded in a very different way to another invitation of equal value and importance.

Almost five months ago, the following was posted on a newly formed website:

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, the undersigned, call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Medicine and Health, and Science and Technology Policy.

With no advertising, very little financial support, and scant attention from the mainstream media, Science Debate 2008, the organization that posted the initial call, soon had 37,000 individual signatories. Among these were 80 university presidents (including the presidents of Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Duke, Columbia, NYU, Princeton, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brown), the CEOs of companies like Intel and Texas Instruments, over two dozen Nobel laureates, and more than a hundred institutional signers including dozens of science and technology organizations collectively representing over 125 million American voters. In Pennsylvania, the initiative had the support of, among others Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, Temple University, Lehigh University, Lafayette College, and the Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Long before it was known that Pennsylvania would be so critical, and giving the candidates ample lead time, an invitation was sent on behalf of the above. It invited the candidates to discuss their policy approaches to the science and technology issues that will determine the economic, human, and ecological health of not just America, but the entire world. The event was to be held at the venerable (and highly appropriate) Franklin Institute on April 18th.

In spite of all the individuals and organizations who passionately supported the debate, and in spite of repeated requests from many different angles, none of them accepted. Only one, Obama, bothered to give a definitive no.

A new debate, now with the additional support of PBS's Nova and NOW, is being proposed for Oregon in early May. The invitations have gone out again. Stay posted. Or better yet visit and join in the call for this important debate.

Matthew Chapman and Lawrence Krauss are two of the founders of Science Debate 2008.