Finally… Answers! September 16, 2008Posted by gordonwatts in politics.
Glory be! Check it — Obama and McCain finally said something about science (first saw it in this article)! I think we all had secret fantasies about a science themed debate, but given our current situation that isn’t very likely (holy dropping-like-a-stone Batman!!).
So, how do they stack up? Here is my totally biased opinion.
- Innovation & Research (I’ve lumped the two together since their answers are the same) – Obama. First, I have to say Obama’s answer is a lot better than last time I tried to look at this. It is as if Clinton’s advisors went to work for Obama – or Obama now had enough time to flesh things out. Much better — specific numbers! Sweet! I like Obama’s idea of broadband access – get individuals all up to speed and working, including real increases in funding for basic research. I like McCain’s idea of a science advisor (not cabinet position, Obama later on mentions a committee to fill the same role). I didn’t understand McCain’s “more citizen-government” dialogs on science comment. McCain was still light on the details as he was last time, which is was a bit of a disappointment. Obama talks about doubling the research budget in 10 years.
- Climate Change – McCain with a slight edge, but I’m not comfortable. Both are in favor of Cap&Trade with almost identical goals by 2050 (I understand each C&T system is slightly different). I like McCain’s idea of beefing up CAFE – but I’d wish he would say more about how much he would raise the standards (or if he would at all). Obama is on the right track in working with the UN on this problem – this is a global problem, not something we can solve within our own boarders. McCain then has all sorts of little things – $300M for the person that gets the new battery, a small amount of funding per year for clean coal, tax write-off for R&D salaries (which I really like, despite its potential problems), and $5K tax credit for purchaser of a zero emissions vehicle. These are all very individualistic proposals, other than the R&D proposal. I’d rather see grant money for peer reviewed research into these same topics – and a stable source of funding. 300M prize just doesn’t do it. However, at least McCain has proposed something here.
- Energy – Obama. Obama proposes $15B/year for 10 years but he needs more for the list of topics he has proposed I think (and probably longer than 10 years). The community can’t absorb that much right away so the turn on will be slower – perhaps that will make it enough money. Both talk about more nuclear power – but I wish McCain would address the fact that that can’t be the only answer (he does, to his credit, in other places). McCain has some muddled text so he can say he was against clean air tax credit (for wind farms, etc.), but would really vote for it in the future.
- Education – Slightly in favor for Obama. This is a little hard for me to tell. Obama would support research into improving education techniques. I’m naturally strongly in favor of that (that is what my wife does). Both candidates support teacher retraining, and continued learning programs – which I think is essential, especially if there is ongoing research into improving teaching. He would have an office in the Dept. of Education that would coordinate all the science, math, etc. education in one place. Given programs exist in the NSF, DOE, NASA, and NOAA, that seems to make sense. But there is my one problem with Obama’s answer: note that currently the hard science folks have these education programs (DOE, NSF, NASA, and NOAA). I don’t really trust the Dept. of Education to do this right.
- National Security – Obama, but… My main problem is I don’t know this field well. However, reading the responses McCain was big on rederic and light on specific proposals. Obama wasn’t much better (DoD double in basic research funding, but no time frame, bring back DARPA).
- Pandemics & Biosecurity – Tie. Both have similar proposals, but other than Obama’s 10B/year on health records there were no specifics (and the 10B/year is a byproduct of trying to improve our health care system).
- Genetics Research – Tie. Both support genetically modified foods (which I support). Both mention the mapping of the genome (see this article for a fascinating counter take on it – who will be right? Wait for the paper!). Neither addresses cloning or other out-there things, but I think that is in part because there is currently a consensus in the US.
- Stem Cells – Obama. Ugh. It is quite possible that the two of them have the exact same policy, but for the life of me – McCain was speaking in code words. Obama was direct and I could understand them. McCain… not so much. I also very much liked that Obama called embryonic stem cells the “gold standard” – something I’ve heard from medical researchers before. The other interesting thing is Obama talked about ethical guidelines for stem cell research – once you have a line of stem cells are there any ethical issues to the research other than the usual “do no evil” standard ethical guidelines? I liked that he was drawing his ethical guidelines from those developed by a committee of scientists rather than politicos.
- Ocean Health – Obama by a hair. Obama’s answer is similar to his climate change answer; mentions working with other countries and while he mentions no specific research proposals he does mention the agency in the US that drives the research, NOAA. McCain, while at the same time saying some of the same motherhood, seems to use this as an excuse to campaign for the Great Lakes region.
- Water – Obama. McCain says it is a complex issue. Obama talks about re-pricing water to make sure it is treated as the valuable resource that it is – which I agree with. This will have huge effects on our farm industry and thus our food prices and Obama does not fully address this (he does talk about helping farmers re-jigger for this new world). This is going to be a very tough nut to crack.
- Space – Obama. BUT HOLY COW – are we getting through!? Check this out from McCain: “Although the general view in the research community is that human exploration is not an efficient way to increase scientific discoveries given the expense and logistical limitations, the role of manned space flight goes well beyond the issue of scientific discovery and is reflection of national power and pride.” Wow! Wow! That was very gratifying for me to read. However, his response seemed to rest on the argument: this is how we prove to the world and ourselves that we are a great nation. Exploration is good, but that program is sucking up too many of our resources – especially now as we are not as flush as we would like to be! McCain also talks about doing science on the ISS… I just don’t see it. Obama talks about continuing the space exploration program, but explicitly mentions research – and explicitly getting NASA back to doing things like climate research.
- Scientific Integrity – Tie. Both talk about policy makers should be using the latest and best results, and policy should not be pushing science or muzzling results, etc. Both talk about putting technically minded people in positions that require technical know-how.
- Health – Tie, but I’m not impressed. I’m guessing the people writing this were running out of steam at this point (as am I). This issue is too important to be what they wrote – and both have extensive health care policy papers. Both basically said they need to increase research. Cool.
Wow – that was a long posting. How many of you are still reading!? And reading there statements and writing this makes this one of the longest posts in preparation I’ve ever written (almost 45 minutes). If you don’t agree with my answers — post in the comments, read the raw material yourself, etc.!!! 🙂
I’m slowly recovering from the move back to Seattle. I finally have Internet at my home! I swear my posting will slowly pick up as I continue to prepare for class.