Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Call for a presidential science debate

I signed up today in support of a presidential debate on science. Specifically, I endorsed the following statement:

"Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we, the undersigned, call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Medicine and Health, and Science and Technology Policy."

You can go to to learn more and add your name to the list. The proposal for a presidential debate only went public on December 10 when my colleague, science journalist Chris Mooney and Matthew Chapman (screenwriter and great grandson of Charles Darwin) went public with their proposal. They had lined up a stellar list of endorsements from prominent scientists and political leaders as well as an amazing cadre of bloggers. Their blogs and op-ed pieces hit the nation's news media and airwaves overnight. The national response is amazing - Science Debate 2008 has legs and it rhymes well too!

While I was at the AGU meeting in San Francisco two weeks ago, I met with Steve Croft, a Berkeley astronony and one of the field's brightest young stars (pun intended). Along with Judy Scotchmoor, my fellow conspirator at COPUS (, and Sue Wells, our mutual friend who got us all together, we brainstormed about a meeting Steve set up for the following day with a confidant and major financial supporter
of one of the leading presidential contenders, to talk about the role of science in the presidential campaign. [I'm not saying who and what campaign because it was not my meeting and I don't want to break any confidences.] Steve, along with UCSD astrophysicist Joel Primack and environmental attorney and writer Nancy Ellen Abrams (the latter two recently co-authored "The View from the Center of the Universe"-, spent over an hour with this political insider and heavy-weight, making the case for Science Debate 2008, and describing some of the real impacts of political decisions on science funding, priorities, and results.

Afterwards, I joined Steve, Joel, and Nancy for lunch across from the Moscone Center in SF. They were encouraged with the response they got. No firm commitments but a sense that science is recognized and valued in some political circles.
Too often in recent years I've felt science is on the defensive. It's energizing to see scientists take to the streets, even metphorically, and change the nature of the debate.

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