Monday, September 15, 2008

Science Debate 2008

Since I don't have my student ID on me and thus cannot borrow the Organic Chemistry book that I need to do homework, I will instead take some time and go over the presidential candidates' responses to the Science Debate '08 questions, which all of you should go read now.

The first thing I notice is there is a lot of political fluff in the answers.

For example, Obama's camp states, "Ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead the world in science and technology will be a central priority for my administration."

McCain does it too. For example, "My Administration will promote economic policies that will spur economic growth and a focus on an innovative economy."

Yes, I know that's what you want to do. Now tell me how you're going to do it. Please be specific.

I was pleased to note that once the fluff is stripped away, Obama presents many specific policy points that will accomplish his goals regarding every single question asked. McCain does too, in some instances, but in others? Not so much.

I'll point you to the National Security question. The question: "Science and technology are at the core of national security like never before. What is your view of how science and technology can best be used to ensure national security and where should we put our focus?"

McCain:

I have been a tireless advocate of our military and ensuring that our forces are properly postured, funded, and ready to meet the nation's obligations both at home and abroad. I have fought to modernize our forces, to ensure that America maintains and expands its technological edge against any potential adversary, and to see that our forces are capable and ready to undertake the variety of missions necessary to meet national security objectives.

As President, I will strengthen the military, shore up our alliances, and ensure that the nation is capable of protecting the homeland, deterring potential military challenges, responding to any crisis that endangers American security, and prevailing in any conflict we are forced to fight.

We are benefiting today from technology that was invented for military use a quarter of a century ago (e.g. the Internet, email, GPS, Teflon). And today, the American military has some of the most advanced technologies in the world to support them as they defend America’s interest. We need to ensure that America retains the edge in the most strategic areas and I will continue to encourage this with advanced R&D research funding.

That was McCain's entire answer. His only real policy suggestion there is in the last sentence: provide advanced R&D funding. Otherwise, it's a lot of blather about "protecting the homeland" and "modernizing our forces". Sure, you'd like to do that. Tell us how you intend to.

Just one paragraph from Obama about the same question, on the other hand:

This year, I was encouraged to see the Department of Defense (DoD) requested a sharp increase in the basic research budget for breakthrough technologies. More is needed. My administration will put basic defense research on a path to double and will assure strong funding for investments in DoD’s applied research programs. We will enhance the connections between defense researchers and their war-fighting counterparts. And, we will strengthen defense research management so that our most innovative minds are working on our most pressing defense problems. A strong research program can also lower procurement costs by reducing technical risks and increasing reliability and performance. Renewing DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) will be a key part of this strategy.
Double basic research. Strengthen research management. Connect researchers with men on the field. Renew DARPA. Those are specific policy implementations that will do exactly what McCain says he intends to do. And that's just one paragraph. Obama continues to talk about revitalizing the Department of Homeland Security, lessening our petroleum dependence by funding alternative energy, and reversing manufacturing sector loss through a number of different -specific- programs.

Some other things I noticed:

  • Both candidates supported a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.
  • McCain focused on domestic solutions to international problems - for example, tax credits for families who buy zero-emission cars, in response to a question on climate change. Obama's response focused more on working with the UN and other international bodies, which makes more sense considering that climate change is happening on a global scale.
  • When asked about energy sustainability, McCain responded that he wants to build more nuclear reactors, which I do totally agree with. (Nuclear is emissions-free!) But Obama's answer was more well-rounded, addressing nuclear, coal, solar, and wind energy; Obama also supported basic research and higher fuel and home efficiency.
  • McCain was far more likely to plug his own virtues in his answers. He mentions his Navy background twice, talks about his views on water conservation "as a westerner," mentions in passing how his record "speaks for integrity and putting the country first," etc.
  • Obama will require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. As someone who has been both on and off different insurances, I can tell you firsthand that this will be AWESOME. On the same question, McCain actually mentions promoting "wellness" as a way to make healthcare more affordable. That's one dog-whistle that makes me cringe.
I know that the large Sciencedebate 2008 page with its giant paragraphs makes for some tough reading, but it's totally worth it. Check it out and let me know what YOU think!

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