Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What Are They Afraid Of?

(adapted from material produced by Research!America)
Although “science versus faith” is a false dichotomy, “faith” apparently is the more appealing topic for politicians to discuss. So far, none of the three remaining presidential contenders has agreed to participate in the national bipartisan call to participate in “Science Debate 2008,” but Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, did just agree to take part in a “compassion forum” next Sunday night, which likely will focus on the nexus between faith and issues such as poverty, the environment, AIDS and Darfur. Well, science issues are moral issues as well.

Faith is not subject to proof as are scientific theses, yet this presidential campaign, just like almost all public policy debates, ignores science as the basis for arriving at real solutions for real people: federal support for medical research, restrictions on stem cell research, genomics, climate change, genetically modified crops and species survival, for example.

Maybe creationism versus evolution, or abstinence-only sex education, might come up next Sunday, but there is little likelihood there will be a robust discussion of the role of science in formulating public policy in other areas – from Minnesota bridge design to regional economic growth.

Martin Peretz, editor of The New Republic and a backer of the Science Debate 2008, says, “(T)he American future depends on American advances in science and engineering. … Of what are the candidates so frightened? Let's see their brains have to stretch, and for God's sake, too.”

The Nobel laureates, other scientists and university presidents behind “Science Debate 2008” are attempting to get it scheduled before the May 20 Oregon primary.

Time is running out, not only for holding candidates accountable on scientific questions, but for the future of American pre-eminence in the field.

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