Monday, December 10, 2007

Let's Have a Presidential Debate on Science and Technology

Politicians aren't scientists, but it's reasonable for the next President of the United States to be knowledgeable about basic issues in science and technology.

Today we're confronted by many threats and politicial choices for which a knowledge of science is useful. An understanding of the biological theory of evolution is helpful for dealing with the crisis of AIDS in Africa, the over-prescription of antibiotics, and the rise of resistance in tuberculosis and staphylococcus infections. A general understanding of biology more generally would be helpful in dealing with bioterrorism and stem-cell research. An understanding of physics would be useful in evaluating our priorities in outer space and the possibility of a dirty bomb attack. An understanding of chemistry and environmental science would assist our lawmakers in dealing with global climate change and ozone depletion. An understanding of astronomy would be helpful for evaluating the threat posed by meteoritic impacts. More generally, an understanding of how science works and the scientific method would help leaders to evaluate competing scientific claims and to distinguish science from pseudoscience.

Unfortunately, many of the presidential candidates seem more interested in establishing their religious bona fides then they are in dealing with science and technology. Some candidates seem positively anti-science: Mike Huckabee, for example, has shamelessly repeats an old canard about bumblebees being unable to fly by the laws of physics and seems to believe he is not a primate or descended from primates.

Today I join scientists and other science bloggers in calling for a national debate among presidential candidates on science and technology. Let's have a chance for the scientists and the public to ask the questions and hear the answers of those who would lead.

5 comments:

Erdos56 said...

Great idea, but politically it would be only damaging to the conservative Republican side, so I doubt they would sign on. I think it would also rapidly devolve into purely theoretical discussions about how policy should be and is influenced by scientific debate ("well, I would ask the best advisers for input on that..." or "that's a matter of conscience for me, not a matter of science" or "that's a matter for the States to decide").

Anonymous said...

DARWIN BELIEVED IN GOD AND IN EVOLUTION. I BELIEVE IN BOTH. I BELIEVE GOD CREATED THE BIG BANG. GOD "FINELY TUNED" OUR UNIVERSE TO CREATE
LIFE.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous:

WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING?

Darwin's views on religion changed during his life. I think it would be fair to say that the single word that would most accurately describe his beliefs at the end is "agnostic". Shouting doesn't turn your false claim into a true one.

Andrew said...

Hey Prof. Shallit,

You might find this interview between Bill Maher and Huckabee about evolution interesting:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXajXz4DF1w

From what I've seen on youtube Bill Maher is pretty hilarious, and pretty vocal against religion. He's putting out a documentary criticizing religion, which should be entertaining.

Ashutosh said...

Nice blog. I had similar thoughts a few days back:
http://www.desipundit.com/ashutosh/2007/12/08/the-price-for-scientific-ignorance-will-be-liberty-itself/