A serious science debate? Don't hold your breath
The Kansas City Star
Four years ago, a group of science writers tried to organize a debate in which Barack Obama and John McCain would debate science issues. Neither campaign was interested. In this story by the McClatchy News Service, author Shawn Lawrence Otto says the group will try again in 2012.
We should have that debate. If the campaign comes down to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, as I expect it will, it would be fascinating to see and hear a serious discussion about climate change, medical ethics and other issues where science and public policy intersect. I’m not holding my breath.
As Otto explains in his new book: “Fool me twice: fighting the assault on science in America,” science is perilous ground for politicians. Acknowledging problems and embracing solutions generally means change, and change always steps on someone’s turf.
Here is Otto quoted in the McClatchy story:
Science does two things that we don’t love. It does lots of things that we do love, but the two things we don’t love are: Whenever we extend our knowledge, we have to parse that new knowledge morally and ethically … . The other thing is that it either confirms or vexes somebody’s vested interested.
Neither Obama nor Romney would have an easy time discussing climate change, perhaps the most urgent scientific issue of the day. Obama embraces the prevailing science but would have to explain why he hasn’t effectively been able to lead a movement toward reduced harmful emissions. Romney has been all over the board on global warming, as noted in this National Journal article.
Four years ago, the best the science writers could do was get each campaign to respond to 14 questions in writing and post the responses on a website, ScienceDebate.org. I’ll hope for a debate, but look for a repeat.