Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Science Debate Answers!

As I introduced in one of my first posts, there has been a grassroots effort to get the presidential candidates to have a debate centered on concerns of science and technology.  These concerns are intertwined with many foreign and domestic political issues.  It is vital that the next President be aware of these concerns when constructing policy.

Well, we didn't get the candidates to hold a live debate, but we did get them to answer 14 important questions.  Senator Obama responded on 30 August, and Senator McCain on 15 September (McCain thus had the advantage of seeing Obama's answers before committing to his own).  Here are their complete answers, side by side.  Below I offer a brief summary of their answer and my take on them.  [under construction]

Obama proposes doubling federal funding for basic research over the next decade.  McCain would provide tax incentives for research.  It is not clear whether he would increase funding for basic research, but he does say he will "Fund basic and applied research in new and emerging fields".
I am all for stimulating the market to engage in technological research, but basic research can take decades to pay off. Further, some basic research will end up enriching our culture but not providing direct economic benefit (e.g. the Hubble Space Telescope).  So we cannot rely on the market alone.

Climate Change
Obama: "I will implement a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050."
McCain: "I will institute a new cap-and-trade system that over time will change the dynamic of our energy economy.  By the year 2012, we will seek a return to 2005 levels of emissions, by 2020, a return to 1990 levels, and so on until we have achieved at least a reduction of sixty percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050."

It is encouraging to see both candidates state that climate change is real and to set specific goals.  McCain seems more likely, IMHO, to expand fossil fuel use in the short term (e.g. his position on offshore drilling) which is unlikely to move the market in the right direction.  But this is one area where he does seem to differ markedly from the Bush administration.  I do worry, however, about Gov. Palin, who seems to be skeptical that global warming is caused by humankind.  To meet the goals that Obama or McCain have laid out will require a determined push from the White House.  If Palin were to assume the presidency, I fear that she would return to the disastrous do-nothing policy of the Bush administration.

[more to come]

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