Science Debate! …2008! (Cue standard stadium chant)

February 1, 2008

I touched on the push for a science-based debate in the US Presidential elections before when all the SB’ers were flogging the pet project of The Intersection co-conspirators. Things seem to have quieted down lately and it is worth checking up on progress. I was, and remain, a bit of a tactical skeptic of Science Debate 2008. Nevertheless it is an excellent goal and quixotic as it may be it is worth a few minutes of your time.

The most important development this week, and the reason I’m revisiting this, was the publication of an editorial in Science by Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy.

We in the United States are sliding down a ramp that will take us, in just 4 days, to the much anticipated “Super Tuesday” in the presidential nomination cycle, when voters in over 20 states participate in preliminary elections to select their favorite candidate. I have prepared for this by watching, in alternating stages of boredom and disbelief, the numerous “debates” staged by the creative powers who run television. I wonder whether the same sensations haven’t affected our scientific colleagues in other nations, where leadership is decided in an atmosphere that is, well, a bit more stately. Here it may be too late to change anyone’s mind about their vote on 5 February, but perhaps between now and the culminating summer conventions that will announce the final party candidates, we can have a debate focusing on the candidates’ views about science and technology.

This is a big deal. Perhaps expected, but a big deal that Science editorialize on this issue.
Go check the organizational list at Science Debate 2008. Is your institution on board? Why not?
And how about the list of plebian signatories? Are you on there? Why not?
It costs you nothing to get on board with this. A few minutes to submit your name, maybe a quick email to colleagues. And what do you gain? Well, NIH funding is front and center of everyone’s list of topics for a potential debate. As I said, I’m a skeptic on a tactical level that this can be pulled off. I do, however, think that there is a good chance this effort may get 5-10 questions asked of the candidates in the already-scheduled or already-in-negotiation debates. Wouldn’t we like one of them to be “What in the heck are you going to do about the NIH“?

3 Responses to “Science Debate! …2008! (Cue standard stadium chant)”

  1. neurolover Says:

    And how do you want them to answer?
    (the question “What in the heck are you going to do about the NIH?)
    I personally don’t see what can be done about it in a time when we’re heading towards recession and are in the middle of a war. (But, I’m guessing that’s not the answer you want to hear from Hillary and Barack and whoever the other guys are.)
    I see the dangers — the critical thing being that you can’t just cryogenically freeze everything and come back to it when there’s money. By the time you’ve come back, you will have lost a cohort of scientists and their ideas. I’m guessing the only solution is policies that don’t let that cohort hit in one place, so that there are different kinds of people to pick up the pieces. But that’s a hard sell to everyone.


  2. PhysioProf Says:

    The NIH situation merely reflects broader political and economic problems. Specifically focusing on NIH is a waste of time. We need to fix the broader political and economic problems–if we even can–and NIH’s woes will be fixed as a corollary.
    In fact, NIH is one of the federal agencies that has been the least fucked up by the Bush administration, because there is just no way to replace PhD scientific administrators with right-wing partisan hacks with degrees from Regent University. If we get the money flowing decently again, everything fixes itself automatically, including peer review.
    I don’t give a damn what any of the presidential candidates have to say about NIH, nor, for that matter, about any particular substantive scientific issue that is going to face us going forward. All I want to know is how faithful a particular candidate will be to a non-insane process for science-based policy-making, and how likely I consider it that they will move us in the right direction in relation to the broader social and economic issues we face.


  3. DrugMonkey Says:

    The historically bipartisan nature of the support for the NIH is exactly the thing that makes it most likely to be “taken care of” should it rise to sufficient national attention. It is therefore our responsibility to make sure that when and if attention drifts our way, we have laid the groundwork for politicians to do the right thing. Are there other priorities? Sure, and I have avenues through which I advocate for those as well.
    PP, I’d suggest that your goals and the “fix the NIH” meme are mutually supportive and compatible. Advancing science-based policy making on the one hand and “fund the NIH, NSF, etc” on the other hand can reinforce each other, creating more attention to “science issues”.


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