It Is Time For A Presidential Debate On Science – Part II

Reiterating our previous call for this debate, I’d like to point out two articles that have come out in the past day, that may address some of the negative commentary here.

The first is Chris Mooney and Lawrence Krauss at LA Times.

The second, by Sheril Kirshenbaum and Matthew Chapman at HuffPo. Note, I consider the Huffington Post a den of denialist iniquity, supporting the lies of Chopra, Kirby and various other conspiracy mongers. But I will consider this an act of saint-like walking amongst the sinners to spread the good word of science. Further, she does a pretty good job addressing some of the early complaints about the plan.

Generally, I can sum up my commenters complaints that this is not a feasible idea based on the fact it wouldn’t benefit most of the presidential candidates, or that debates themselves are not valuable as they are just press conference, or more simply, what kinds of questions would we ask? Is it just going to be an exam? Finally Chris at completely misses the point and has a mixture of complaints ranging from “science should not mix with politics” and that we already know where the candidates stand.

Sheril and Matthew point out:

One of these is the suggestion that the candidates simply are not equipped to talk about science. We disagree. The candidates do not need a degree in economics in order to talk about the economy, nor do they require one in science in order to discuss science.

We are not proposing a pop quiz or an argument, but rather, we are suggesting an illuminating debate. The electorate should have the opportunity to hear the candidates discuss their policy positions on our many scientific and technological challenges, what their ethical positions are in relation to them, and what their aspirations are.

But this does not finish the job. Here’s my arguments for why you critics should stop being such a buzz kill.

Science and politics are already intertwined, ignoring the problem will not make it go away or prevent it from getting worse.

It would not necessarily be bad for the hyper-religious candidates, because their constituency may actually be thrilled to see them reject science for denialist nonsense like ID or AGW denialism. It will give them the opportunity to stand up for their popular pseudoscience if they like. Although they more be more cautious depending on who makes up the panel. It might be quite interesting.

As far as the publicity stunt/fake debate criticisms that is inevitable with any debate but that doesn’t mean the debates aren’t helpful. For one thing, this emphasizes that science has become important enough to have a public discussion, no matter how orchestrated it might end up being. Second, even though we supposedly know where the candidates stand, making them say out loud what they believe, ideally to a panel of Nobelists asking questions, may diminish their lack of embarrassment in announcing their love of anti-science ideas. Forcing candidates to evaluate science and be publicly challenged by experts may make them refine and improve their positions. Rather than throwing the occasional bone to an interest group, they may have to develop a coherent set of ideas.

Finally, it makes the minority of Americans that think science is incredibly important a defined constituency that must be courted. We may be a minority, but we’re likely one of the largest minorities – those that accept science as fact. To be treated as a bloc increases our power.