The Science Debate
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 18:10
After three presidential debates, a number of questions remain unanswered. Many voters have heard all they care to and more about five point plans and Obamacare, but still know very little about other important subjects.
While the candidates’ stances on subjects such as foreign policy and the economy are decidedly important, what about their positions on the issues that affect these subjects?
At the core of many of these subjects lies Science. It has become present in nearly all aspects of our lives. To find out where the candidates stand, the website Science Debate 2012 partnered with numerous scientific organizations to get answers.
Groups such as the National Academy of Engineering, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Scientific American reached out to thousands of scientists to find the most important issues.
The group compiled a list of the most important science policy questions and asked the candidates where they stood. The scope of the questions ranged from ocean health to the role of Science in public policy.
Scott Siechen, Professor of Biology, explained why Science issues matter on campus. “The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the medicines we take, the tools we use and the games we play are all possible because of science. The global communications system that is changing the way we learn is possible because of science,” he explained.
Marketing Major Lisa Catrambone believes that many students today take science for granted. “These days we're so attached to technology, but give no credit to the scientist and engineers that create these amazing devices,” she explained.
“Many college students get their political views from their family or social media, unfortunately. Generally I don't think science related issues matter to them, at least not as much as social issues that get a lot of media coverage.”
But what should the government’s role be in Science? Obama is in favor of large investments into the fields, particularly clean energy research.
“We will continue to prioritize investments in research to ensure that our country remains a global leader and that Americans can remain innovators, working to better their lives and the lives around them,” Obama explained.
Romney, on the other hand thinks that the private sector should carry the burden of investment. “President Obama’s misguided attempts to play the role of venture capitalist, pick winners and losers, and spend tens of billions of dollars on politically-prioritized investments have been a disaster for the American taxpayer,” he said.
“I feel that Romney is correct on this point. Only because I feel that our government doesn’t have any money it can really afford to put anywhere,” Nash Moore, general studies student explained. “If there is a demand for something then somebody will try to make it.”
Many share the viewpoint that the budget has no room for investment. Others argue that staying on top of the global technology race is the only way out of our current economic situation.
“The goal of corporate funded research is often narrowly focused on what will be profitable for that company,” Siechen argued. “This narrow focus brings with it great power to achieve immediate goals - safe and effective medicines and medical technologies, materials and devices of great use and entertainment etc. This applied research can and should be funded by corporations and they should reap the benefits of that research.”
“But government funded research, in which the researcher is free to pose any question and follow the evidence wherever it may lead, without demanding that it be immediately profitable for any entity is crucial to the future of the scientific endeavor,” he concluded.
Catrambone agrees, “I think that it's easy for Governor Romney to think the money can come from private sectors because he is no stranger to being around money and other people with money. It's easy to say ‘Oh, I'm sure someone will pay for this...eventually.’”
“The problem is, if no one pays for it, it won't happen. Not without funding from the government. America takes great pride in their space program. We put the first man on the moon and just landed Curiosity Rover on Mars. It's one of the things that make this nation great,” she said.
Another key point of contention between the candidates is the role scientific research should play in public policy decisions. Obama believes that scientific research is one of the most important means of determining public policy, while Romney feels that public opinion is just as important as the data collected from research in determining correct policy.
Catrambone sides with Obama on this point saying, “Is that even a question? Of course scientific data is more important. Public opinion is just that, an opinion. We get our facts from science. Public opinion used to be that the world was flat. Science can eventually change an ignorant persons mind. An ignorant person's mind is not going to change Science.”
Siechen had this to say about the subject, “Science does not work by consensus of popular opinion. The public cannot be experts in any field.”
“The sources of scientific information available to the public are notoriously oversimplified, biased and open to manipulation by parties wishing to skew the data in a way that is beneficial to them.”
“However, it is the public that ultimately votes whether or not to fund basic research. This sets up a difficult situation. We need better science education and better secondary sources of information in order for the public to be as well and accurately informed about scientific findings as possible.”
As you enter the voting booths next Tuesday, keep in mind that it is important that you, too, are accurately informed about scientific issues. For more information about what topics were asked of the candidates and their responses, visit www.sciencedebate.org/debate12.