Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Obama's Stance on Science and Technology

Nature invited the US Presidential Candidates to answer 18 science-related questions in writing. Barack Obama agreed to answer these questions, while John McCain's campaign (surprisingly?!) declined.

You can read all of Obama's answers to the questions here. Here is a small sample:

What will be your highest priority in the science and technology arena?

Barack Obama: I am committed to strengthening US leadership in science, technology and innovation, and doing so will be a central priority for my administration. Our talent for innovation is still the envy of the world, but we face unprecedented challenges that demand new approaches. For example, the United States annually imports $53 billion more in advanced technology products than we export. China is now the world's number one high-technology exporter. This competitive situation may only worsen over time because the number of US students pursuing technical careers is declining. The United States ranks 17th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; we were in third place thirty years ago.

Federally supported basic research, aimed at understanding many features of nature — from the size of the Universe to subatomic particles, from the chemical reactions that support a living cell to interactions that sustain ecosystems — has been an essential feature of American life for over fifty years. While the outcomes of specific projects are never predictable, basic research has been a reliable source of new knowledge that has fuelled important developments in fields ranging from telecommunications to medicine, yielding remarkable rates of economic return and ensuring American leadership in industry, military power and higher education. I believe that continued investment in fundamental research is essential for ensuring healthier lives, better sources of energy, superior military capacity, and high-wage jobs for our nation's future.

....Finally, we are reducing support for science at a time when many other nations are increasing it, a situation that already threatens our leadership in many critical areas of science.

This situation is unacceptable. As president, I will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade to support our scientists and restore US scientific leadership.

Many scientists are bitter about what they see as years of political interference in scientific decisions at federal agencies. What would you do to help restore impartial scientific advice in government?

Obama: Scientific and technological information is of growing importance to a range of issues. I believe such information must be expert and uncoloured by ideology. I will restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees. More broadly, I am committed to creating a transparent and connected democracy, using cutting-edge technologies to provide a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America's citizens. Policies must be determined using a process that builds on the long tradition of open debate that has characterized progress in science, including review by individuals who might bring new information or contrasting views. I have already established an impressive team of science advisers, including several Nobel laureates, who are helping me to shape a robust science agenda for my administration.

Do you believe that evolution by means of natural selection is a sufficient explanation for the variety and complexity of life on Earth? Should intelligent design, or some derivative thereof, be taught in science class in public schools?

Obama: I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated. I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny.

Would you lift President Bush's ban on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem-cell lines derived after 9 August 2001? Under what conditions do you find it acceptable to create a human embryonic stem-cell line?

Obama: Stem-cell research holds the promise of improving our lives in at least three ways — by substituting normal cells for damaged cells to treat diabetes, Parkinson's disease, spinal-cord injury, heart failure and other disorders; by providing scientists with safe and convenient models of disease for drug development; and by helping to understand fundamental aspects of normal development and cell dysfunction.

For these reasons, I strongly support expanding research on stem cells. I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on the funding of human embryonic stem-cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations. As president, I will lift the current administration's ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem-cell lines created after 9 August 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.

I wonder why the McCain campaign declined to participate. Perhaps they read this story and figured there was no need to worry about the state of science and technology in America.