Doubts on ScienceDebate2008 from Nature

Posted by Jesse Reynolds February 8, 2008
Biopolitical Times
The journal Nature has raised serious apprehension about the proposal for a presidential candidates' debate on science. An editorial states:
Well meant though it may be, the idea of Tim Russert or some other journalist-interrogator looking Republican hopeful John McCain in the eye and asking "What balance will you seek in federal science funding between major-programme project research and investigator-initiated basic-research grants?" is somewhat fantastical.

It is also slightly disturbing. For all that it claims to be a 'grass-roots' phenomenon, the proposed debate can be seen as an attempt by various élite institutions to grab the microphone and set the agenda from the top down.
And, in an accompanying column, Harvard's David Goldston points out that
The increasing tendency to conflate science questions — Are we experiencing man-made climate change? — with policy questions — What, if anything, should we do about it? — has been a damaging trend. It has helped to turn science into a political football and has muddied policy debates. At a 'science debate', candidates will try to claim that their position is the one supported by 'science', and the very structure of the debate will send voters the faulty message that these are questions that the natural sciences can resolve. Framing questions of economics, ethics and other aspects of policy as 'science issues' does no favour for either science or politics. And it makes one wonder if the sponsors of the debate merely want to find out whether the candidates agree with their personal opinions on these topics.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: