The Bush administration spent its tenure burying science. Will Obama or McCain resurrect it? Over the last seven years and change, we have born witness to one of the most anti-science presidential administrations in United States history. There's been censorship of research, stacking of scientific advisory..
The Bush administration spent its tenure burying science. Will Obama or McCain resurrect it?Over the last seven years and change, we have born witness to one of the most anti-science presidential administrations in United States history. There's been censorship of research, stacking of scientific advisory panels along ideological lines, stem cell-based culture wars, and the appointment of under-qualified government staffers. Bush and his cronies have jovially hacked away at the morale of the American scientist as though it were brush-clearing time at Crawford Ranch. Heck, remember when Dubya removed the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet" from NASA's mission statement?During stump speeches and political debates, science and technology are often swept under the rug. So, what are Obama's plans for NASA? Can McCain, who chose a VP who believes dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, redress the Bush administration's wrongs? Behold, the fine print of our candidates' proposed science policies:BASIC RESEARCH Obama: The Obama campaign vows to restore the prominence of science advisor, a position that under Bush lost its "special assistant to the president"-status. With a respected science advisor at his side, Obama aims to reverse several Bush administration trends by appointing science-literate people to federal positions, doubling federal funding for basic research over ten years, and ensuring non-ideological science advisory committees.McCain: The McCain campaign website has scant references to science research, education, or funding, but the Republican candidate stated his policies in response to a questionnaire from the nonpartisan group Sciencedebate 2008. He also vows to hire a qualified science advisor whom he'll consult with to ensure "that policies will be based upon sound science, and that the scientific integrity of federal research is restored." He also vows to eliminate "wasteful earmarks," allowing him to allocate increased funds for basic and applied research. In addition, he wants to encourage the commercialization of science.
STEM CELLSObama: Obama supports stem-cell research despite alternatives-such as cord blood cells and reprogrammed adult cells-stating that, "embryonic stem cells remain unmatched in their potential."McCain: McCain supports stem-cell research, with some reservations. He asks that clear lines be drawn between scientific progress and ethical values, allowing for the use of discarded embryos from in-vitro fertilization, which would go to waste under a general stem-cell research ban. He strongly, opposes, however, the intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes (which conservatives refer to as "fetal farming").SPACE EXPLORATIONObama: The Obama campaign has recently been harping on the four-year grounding of the U.S. space program that will start in 2010, as the space shuttle is retired and the Orion spacecraft is introduced. During that period, we will not be able to send astronauts to the International Space Station (without Russia's help). Obama wants to maintain a U.S. presence in space to make use of the vantage point for conducting climate change, aeronautical, and weather research. He also wants to establish a "robust" program for both human and robotic exploration of space.McCain: A McCain presidency would see increased investments in aeronautics research and a commitment to funding NASA's Constellation program, which is developing Orion. Interestingly, his official space policy references the "U.S. victory over the Soviets in the race to the moon"-recalling Cold War-era fears that other countries might leave the U.S. in the (space) dust.
THE INTERNETObama: Obama believes in what he calls "an open Internet," strongly supporting net-neutrality, which allows users to go where they want on the Web. He does, however, want to implement sensible safeguards that protect privacy online, by supporting restrictions on the use of private information.McCain: McCain is against net-neutrality, which he refers to as "prescriptive regulation." He argues that the government can keep Internet users safe from harmful content, spam, and bogus marketing. On the upside, McCain does champion high-speed Internet access for everyone.SCIENCE EDUCATION Obama: Obama is a heavy supporter of boosting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education by funding 40,000 teacher's scholarships to increase the quantity and quality of Pre-K to 12 math and science teachers. Additionally, he would increase federal technology education investments by $500 million, bringing interactive games, tutoring systems, and, of course, social networks to the classroom. Most importantly, however, is a long-overdue measure to triple the amount of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships handed out each year.McCain: In response to a ScienceDebate 2008 question on science education, McCain said restoring America's economic prowess relied on building a 21st century workforce. Accordingly, he vows to help retrain displaced workers and reinvigorate the community college system by allocating $250 million to online education opportunities and bringing "private corporations more directly into the process, leveraging their creativity and experience.(Microscope picture from Flickr user Juan Eduardo Donoso; McCain photo from Flickr user soggydan; Obama photo from Flickr user iceman9294)