Obama vs. Romney – the science debate

Science was not mentioned very often in the latest heated presidential US debate, but look a little behind the scenes and you will find matters of science and technology are being hotly debated.

For instance there are the “Top 14 science questions”, arrived at by questioning thousands of scientists, engineers and concerned citizens by sciencedebate.org.

Both candidates appear to recognise the importance of science and technology to the economy and support federally funded research. Obama promises to double funding to the National Science Foundation and significantly increase investment in science teaching. Romney focuses more on protecting American intellectual property rights and simplifying tax codes to promote innovation.

Climate change and energy reveal the biggest policy differences. Obama sees climate change as one of the biggest issues facing us today and supports “smart policies” in “clean energy generation”. Romney is less convinced of the extent to which human activities have an effect, and wants to support continued “debate and investigation amongst the scientific community”. Romney believes reducing the deficit is more important than tackling climate change; Obama is firmly supportive of taking action to reduce climate change.

Chillingly, the Republican party are openly in favour of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Obama strongly rejects this policy.

Obama also demonstrates a more environmentally friendly approach to food, pledging to reduce pesticide and antibiotic use, and to increase the number of organic certifications by 20%. Romney’s response to this question focused on how to reduce the number of food-borne illnesses. Many argue that a more organic approach to food production would be a step towards this goal…

Obama has been given a science “score card” by the Scientist, and not a bad one at that, though letting himself down with a C- for space science. Nasa has not been a priority for the Obama administration, with the organisation seeing a 20% reduction in its funding this financial year.

Would Romney be any better for Nasa? Republicans are explicitly in favour of space exploration and see it as a good thing for commerce, for technology and for national pride. But where will the money come from?

The financial situation is perhaps the biggest problem facing US science.

”The point is if we’re facing all these cuts, it doesn’t matter what the lip service may be to research, it’s about what you can actually get done,” said Sheri Fink, a fellow at New America Foundation.

Personally I would vote for Obama though, if only to save the Arctic. Let’s see what the US public decides.
Image courtesy of Sailom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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