Science Debate 2008

The presidential candidates, Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, have responded to the 14 questions posed by ScienceDebate2008.

Obama responded first, then McCain a week later. A synopsis follows, but click the link above to read the answers in full.

Obama follows the Democratic platform to double federal funding of basic research, which would fund the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Cancer Institute, as well as looking to increase ways to support women in math and science and to invest in higher education with a $4,000 tax credit for incoming college students.

They also pledged to lift the ban on funding embryonic stem cell research, which is important now that the previously approved lines have been found to be contaminated or unusable. They will also make the research and development (R&D) tax credit permanent, making it more financially rewarding to make new medical treatments and research forms of alternative energy.

He addresses the need to combat the amount of importation from China by increasing science and technology education and research in the United States, which would also address employment issues. This includes exposing all school children to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teaching and education, not just those destined for those careers.

He laid out a plan to reduce carbon emissions with a market-based cap-and-trade system and to work with utilities to establish alternative forms of energy, worth $150 billion over the next 10 years. And, not ignoring national security, he wants to increase research spending for the Department of Defense to better equip the United States with up-to-date technology. He also proposes to launch the Shared Security Partnership that will invest $5 billion over 3 years to protect against bio-attacks and pandemics.

He plans on fixing the public health infrastructure and helping hospitals cope with greater numbers of patients. He also wants to look at ways to use water more efficiently and to explore both space and the oceans.

Most importantly, he plans to appoint those with appropriate backgrounds to scientific posts. He plans to strengthen protection for whistleblowers to increase the integrity of science. And he proposes to form the office of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the first time in American history.

McCain's more specific responses regarding his plans for office include the appointment of a Science and Technology Advisor to the White House, and that he will base his policies on sound science, in order to restore the scientific integrity of federal research. He also wants to promote entrepreneurship to increase innovation and technology in the current U.S. technology infrastructure. He also plans to fund nanotechnology research.

A surprising find in the responses McCain provided is an acceptance, and recognition, of global warming, which his party has avoided for the past decade. His policy to reduce carbon emissions is the same as Senator Obama’s – a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions by 2050 and permanent R&D tax credit.

McCain also wants to commit money to clean coal technology research and $5000 tax credit to anyone who buys a zero emissions car, but there’s no discussion to changing the current law that makes it illegal to sell these cars in some states. McCain’s other plans also include contests with prize money, rather than funding basic research.

McCain wants to build 45 new nuclear reactors by 2050, rather than support alternative energy sources.

Similar to Obama, McCain support STEM education, but prefers to support individual businesses that can help guide students from college into the workforce rather than support the schools themselves.

McCain supports all forms of stem cell research, as long as an embryo was not used for the line’s creation. He also supports oceanic research, but does not discuss how or to what extent. His policies on water safety extend to water rights disputes, rather than the actual safety of the water.

His discussion on NASA and space exploration is a history lesson rather than an outline of his policies, though he has stated that space exploration will be a top priority, which would indicate that going to the moon again is more important than starving, uninsured citizens. Though McCain says he is committed to continue funding the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, he doesn’t say by how much, how often, or even how.

McCain’s plan to solve the healthcare crisis is to promote better technology.

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