What do the Presidential candidates think about science?

Contributed by
Feb 3, 2008

I've been wanting to write about the Presidential candidates' stand on science for a while now. In some cases it's pretty clear: under Huckabee, for example, there's little doubt that after a few weeks we'd be longing for the devastation wrought by Bush. For others, like Obama, it's not as clear. He once said he wanted to take NASA's money and give it to education (not understanding what NASA does for education), but he seems to have relented somewhat on that.

It's now a wee bit easier to see what's what, because Physics Today has a site with links to the Presidential candidates' thoughts on science.

However, after looking through it, I don't think their pages are all that reliable, since they depend on what the candidates have said in press releases, and not what they've said and done on the actual campaign trail. For example, on evolution, it just quotes what Huckabee said in an interview:

"If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, I'll accept that....I believe there was a creative process."

Huckabee said he has no problem with teaching evolution as a theory in the public schools and he doesn't expect schools to teach creationism.

"We shouldn't indoctrinate kids in school," he said. "I wouldn't want them teaching creationism as if it's the only thing that they should teach."

However, in 2004, Huckabee was a bit clearer about this:

But I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution.

Huckabee is scary dangerous. He repeats the really bad creationist talking point about fact and theory like it makes any sense at all... but at least his position, to rational people, is crystal clear. I think it's remiss of the Physics Today folks, whom I generally highly respect, to leave such an important topic so badly incomplete. A little digging would have been very helpful here.

As we have seen repeatedly, what candidates say and what they do are, in general, vastly different things. Relying simply on their press releases to gauge their stand on science is at best hopelessly naive, and at worst very dangerous.

Over the next week or two I will look into this issue more. With Romney and Huckabee it's pretty clear. Of all the candidates, as far as I know, only Clinton has made a clear stand on science, and was clear about evolution, too:

"I believe in evolution, and I am shocked at some of the things that people in public life have been saying," Mrs. Clinton said in the interview. "I believe that our founders had faith in reason and they also had faith in God, and one of our gifts from God is the ability to reason."

"I am grateful that I have the ability to look at dinosaur bones and draw my own conclusions," she added, saying, too, that antibiotic-resistant bacteria is evidence that "evolution is going on as we speak.

Evolution is not the be-all and end-all of science, of course, but these days it's a pretty good canary-in-the-mineshaft for it.

McCain is at best hazy, having said after that one infamous Republican debate -- where three out of ten candidates humiliated the US by showing that they didn't think evolution was true -- that evolution is supported by science, but that we should "expose students to other theories". Thing is, there are no other theories. There's evolution, and there's fantasy. So I'm not so thrilled with McCain either.

Mind you, the President does have influence here. The President can appoint judges, for example, and can influence Congress. And (s)he can set the national direction on many issues.

I'm not so naive myself as to be a one-issue voter, at least, not on this one issue. The past seven years have pushed this country to the thin hairy edge of disaster, and in many cases well beyond that edge. You will have your own opinions on the war, on the economy, on warrentless wiretapping, on torture, on purging attorney generals, on outing covert agents, and so on. Go ahead and vote your conscience on those. But on this blog I tend to lean heavily (though obviously not exclusively) on science. As I find out more, I'll post more.

We're coming down to the wire here, folks, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say the very future of our nation hangs on the balance here. Please, do due diligence on this. Find the information that concerns you, and vote accordingly. If science is that important to you, then by all means, let it guide you as well.

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