What Do Obama and Romney Know about Science? Really?

President Barack Obama addresses the House Dem...

President Barack Obama addresses the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Romney (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

Under a curiously misleading headline (“What do Obama and Romney know about science?”) the Scientific American informs us of a project in which they have linked up with a dozen science organizations to press the campaigns on a series of common questions.

Some quick remarks on first reading of the document:

1. While the questions are each and every one interesting, they are (sorry) entirely predictable. Read the list.

2. A very curious absentee: There is no question at all about the relation of science and human values/morals/ethics/what-you-will. This is even more significant than it may sound, as the “values” aspects to emerging technologies are racing right up there with Moore’s Law itself. (And: according to the annual VCU poll of science attitudes, around one-half of Americans believe S and T have caused as many problems as they have solved.)

3. Another core absentee: AI, robotics, and the future of employment. At a recent lunch in Menlo Park, the only thing my two well-connected colleagues wished to discuss was when we were going to come up with innovations that actually create rather than destroy jobs. Humanoids are us, or almost. Huge policy issues await.

4. Convergence and innovation. Some of us are eager to get rid of tenure as a key pre-req to loosening up the S and T academic establishment (cause havoc in universities, of course; but havoc is a key currency of innovation). Why do we have NSF/NIH(which gets most of the moolah)/NIST/FDA/NASA and all the rest as-is, when the disciplines make less and less sense? The National Nanotechnology Initiative was a big effort to surmount this problem, and while it has led to good things it sure has had no impact on the problem itself. Anyone for a new federal tech R and D agency based in the Valley? No, not the Potomac Valley.

5. More than their personal science knowledge, which I would love to do is get Mr. O and Mr. R on the hot seat to ask them what exponential means.

If I were putting such a list of what I have called Tomorrow’s Questions together, I would not ask a bunch of societies but really smart people with widely differing views . . . from enviros to transhumanists to Catholics to feminists to mommy bloggers to the key tech journos, and so on.

Enough for now! This is a great discussion to have opened, and I’m sure Christine Gorman @cgorman will keep it open.

The statement maintains a wish expressed 4 years ago for both candidates to have a debate on science alone. I suspect quilting or health food would be more appealing; some things just ain’t going to happen. In 2008 The Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies hosted a full-day event at the National Press Club with co-sponsorship from a major science society and a local university – with high-level panels on space policy, bio, nano, and so on. The idea was that the campaigns would send top surrogates for a serious day of engagement.

As it happened, astrology intervened with science and our stars were not aligned. It was the week the McCain campaign canceled itself. But Michael Nelson arrived on behalf of the Obama campaign, and not only engaged at length with the panels but subsequently joined both the board and the Senior Fellowship of C-PET.

This year we don’t plan to host a similar event, but to go broader and wider. Just announced: a series of teleconference town halls with leading science, tech, biz, policy figures, and campaign surrogates as and when they wish to join, to continue the roundtable and telecon series we have hosted over the past 4 years.

I moderated the panel on the election and the future of U.S. competitiveness at the Napa Tech Policy Summit which C-PET co-sponsored a few weeks ago. It included gurus Paul Kedrosky and Vivek Wadhwa, as well as Kathy Warner COO of Start-up America and Emanuel Pleitez of Spokeo.

Here’s what they had to say (video below). They don’t think the election will make that much difference. (Wait for the last question.)


The C-PET 2008 Election Forum at the National Press Club


What Do Obama and Romney Know about Science? And Why It Matters | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network.

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