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Editor's Page

April 21, 2008
Volume 86, Number 16
p. 3


Debate Science ... Please

The following is a recent e-mail exchange between me and an ACS colleague about my editorial on "Grand Science Challenges" in last week's issue:

Hi, Rudy: It's great that we have identified some key technological areas that we need to conquer in order to achieve [DOE Undersecretary for Science Raymond] Orbach's vision for the future. Now for the real challenge: Who are we going to get to pursue these challenges, and how much money will we invest to prime the pump? I'm incredulous that this country would go to such great lengths to beat the Russians to the moon, but with much, much higher stakes (a clean earth/adequate food and energy, etc.), we don't recognize the need to reprise, if not exceed, that national effort. J

To J: Couldn't agree with you more. But George Bush is no John Kennedy. Rudy

To Rudy: No argument there. My larger concern (looking forward) is that Obama, Clinton, and McCain have said nothing so far to suggest they get it, either. Perhaps we'll hear something during the general election cycle. Not holding my breath, though. J

To J: Some days I'm a pessimist. As long as there is petroleum, natural gas, and coal to be pumped or dug up and burned, politicians will ignore the challenge energy presents. I fear that humanity will have to pass through two wrenching crises—peak oil and serious climate change—before we actually get serious about changing the way we power our societies. I don't think the 21st century is going to be a pleasant one, especially for our children and grandchildren. Rudy

To Rudy: I'm afraid I agree with you. It's the rare political leader who will proactively tackle a thorny issue when the option exists to bequeath it to his or her successor. J

My colleague makes an important point: The three remaining candidates for President have so far almost completely avoided any discussion of science and technology issues confronting our nation and the world.

This is more than simple omission, because, as I wrote on this page earlier this year (Feb. 11, page 5), the candidates were invited to participate in a debate on science issues on April 18 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Science Debate 2008 was endorsed by dozens of Nobel Prize winners, scores of university presidents and industry executives, most national scientific organizations, and many publications, including C&EN.

As Shawn Lawrence Otto, one of the principal organizers of Science Debate 2008, noted in an e-mail, Barack Obama declined the invitation, Hillary Rodham Clinton was noncommittal, and John McCain was nonresponsive. A new invitation has been issued, inviting the candidates to a science debate at Portland State University in Oregon on the evening of Friday, May 2, 9, or 16 (

By contrast, Obama and Clinton met on April 13 for a 90-minute "Compassion Forum" at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, billed as "wide ranging and probing discussions of policies related to moral issues." Sponsored by the group Faith in Public Life, the forum was broadcast in its entirety by CNN. McCain was invited to the event but did not participate.

I've read the transcript of the forum. Clinton and Obama discussed at length their faith and how it supports and guides them in their personal and public lives. Much of the conversation was interesting and substantive. One question of Obama even touched on the perceived "war between science and faith."

However, if Clinton and Obama are willing to spend 90 minutes discussing matters of faith, they should also be willing to accept the invitation to discuss the pressing science and technology issues that are so critical to humanity's future. Regardless which of the three candidates you support, as ACS members it seems to me that you should want to have this event take place. Take the time to contact the candidate you support and urge him or her to participate in this essential debate.

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum, Editor-in-chief

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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