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We Need a Science Debate in 2008

Anyone with political awareness and a mind for science must be aware of the extraordinary degree to which scientists and scientific thought have been marginalized by the Bush administration. Check “science” and “Bush administration” on Google , and you’ll get nearly 1.8 million hits. The topic has been covered in the media with such titles as “Scientists and Bush Administration at Odds”, “Scientists: Bush Distorts Science”, “The Junk Science of George W. Bush”, and “Bush Misuses Science Data, Report Says.”

Having a science background myself (medicine and public health), I was excited to hear from my brother, Richard Alden, about the growing demand for presidential candidates to participate in a public debate on science and technology.

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we are calling for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.

Thousands have already signed the online petition for such a debate, including Nobel prize winners and other leading scientists, university presidents, heads of major scientific organizations and publications, and both Republican and Democratic political leaders.

Click here to add your name to the petition for a presidential debate on science and technology, and to support this campaign in other ways.

My brother, a politically moderate techie guy who is CEO of a Midwestern firm that manufactures massive machine tools, sent the following message about Science Debate 2008 to a number of his friends and colleagues:

The US became a world leader by embracing and encouraging unfettered scientific research in the latter half of the 20th century.

While faith plays an important role in many people's lives, it cannot be a substitute for sound scientific research as a basis for public policy and economic investment. The US faces stiff competition on the world stage from countries who are investing in research and development (China, India, Japan, the EU, etc.). Our universities are losing prominence as independent institutions of higher learning and we risk descending into mediocrity as a society of consumers, not innovators, of technology.

We should strengthen our own R&D and collaborate, not compete with other countries on international standards that will keep the US in the game. Standards, whether de facto (e.g., Microsoft, VHS) or negotiated (802.11g, CE in the EU), give all players a common framework upon which to grow.

I was fortunate to have grown up in a family and during a time when science was revered (the 50s and 60s) and have eagerly absorbed information about computers (my field), medicine (my family's), biology, engineering (all fields), space and other technologies. I fear my children will not have the same rich experience and good life as citizens of a technologically weakening US.

[…] If you support science research and development as the future of our country, please visit the site and do all you can to steer us onto a better course.

The topics of science and the related requirement for critical thinking skills are not new ones for the Commonweal Institute. For example, Ian Finseth, one of our Senior Fellows, wrote several years ago:

Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Western Enlightenment has been the elevation of individual reason and judgment over dogma and received wisdom. The celebration of independent thought -- not to mention independent thought itself -- has played a central role in the rise of both secular government and religious ecumenicalism; in the steady expansion of liberty and civil rights; in the major scientific and economic advances of the last 500 years; and in the philosophical underpinnings of all these achievements.

It’s time for our wanna-be-leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, to hear from We the People that we value sound science and critical thinking, and that we want them to tell us what they plan to do in this regard if elected. Remember, click here to add your name to the petition for a presidential debate on science and technology. Please also pass the word along to all your friends and colleagues.

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