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Presidential Candidates’ Positions on Science Issues

16 September, 2008

Both presidential candidates have now issued answers to a series of questions about science policy, Senator Barack Obama having done so in late August and Senator John McCain on Monday.

Their responses show clear areas of agreement on such apple-pie issues as ocean health, as well as sharp contrasts, as when Mr. Obama stresses the role of government and Mr. McCain that of business in addressing some of the nation’s main challenges.

What follows is a digest of their answers, as posted by Science Debate 2008. The private group, in an effort endorsed by leading scientific organizations, has worked since November to get candidates to articulate positions on science policy. The full answers are at http://www.sciencedebate2008.com.

INNOVATION Mr. Obama calls for doubling federal budgets for basic research over a decade and supports broadband Internet connections “for all Americans.” Mr. McCain stresses policies to provide “broad pools of capital, low taxes and incentives for research in America,” as well as the streamlining of “burdensome regulations.” Mr. McCain also said Congress, “under my guiding hand,” adopted wireless policies that “spurred the rapid rise of mobile phones and WiFi technology.”

CLIMATE CHANGE Both candidates talk of human activities’ warming the planet, with Mr. McCain saying that they “threaten disastrous changes” and Mr. Obama that “they are influencing the global climate.” In terms of 1990 levels of carbon emissions, Mr. McCain would ultimately have the nation’s output drop by 60 percent and Mr. Obama by 80 percent.

ENERGY Mr. Obama would increase federal investment in clean energy by $150 billion over a decade, including research on alternative fuels and conservation. Mr. McCain would speed the building of 45 new reactors and make government “an ally but not an arbiter” in developing alternative energy sources.

EDUCATION Both candidates advocate policies to develop a highly skilled workforce, partly with cash incentives for teachers. Mr. McCain would put $250 million into a program to help states expand online education.

NATIONAL SECURITY Mr. Obama would put his administration “on a path” to doubling federal spending on basic defense research. Mr. McCain is much less specific, speaking of ensuring “that America retains the edge.”

GENETICS RESEARCH Both laud the potential benefits and point out the social dangers, with Mr. Obama saying he backed the recently passed Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Mr. McCain speaks of “a new green revolution” in food development.

STEM CELLS Both support federal financing for embryonic stem cell research.

SPACE Both candidates say they want to revitalize space exploration, with Mr. McCain calling for “new technologies to take Americans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.” He also suggests possibly extending the space shuttle’s life. Mr. Obama would re-establish a White House Space Council to coordinate all the nation’s space efforts, including ones intended to aid understanding of climate change and expand “our reach into the heavens.”

SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY Both implicitly fault President Bush, whom critics have assailed as weakening the federal advisory apparatus and politicizing scientific panels.[nytimes]

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