Comparisons of the Candidate’s Answers to Science Debate 2008

Posted on 2nd October 2008 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Science Debate 2008 has posted the two candidate’s answers side by side, and I have taken the time to thoroughly review them. Obama comes out the obvious winner in this debate for consistently demonstrating a clear understanding of the issue and proposing specific policies to handle it. McCain only clearly won on the topic of Space Exploration, where his answer was absolutely fantastic. Obama and McCain did come out equal on several points, and both of them failed on the issue of water.

So here are a comparison of the two candidate’s answers to Science Debate 2008:

1. Innovation: Obama

Clear win for Obama on this one. In concise terms, he outlines his plan to double basic research funding over the next ten years, implement Service Scholarship programs, Teacher Residency Academies, make the R&D tax credit permanent, and provide broadband Internet connections for all Americans.

How will we pay for this? Education pays for itself.

McCain says he will fund, not increase funding, for basic research. He will cut wasteful spending to reallocate it for science and technology, and he will encourage the commercialization of federally funded research (you can read the problem I have with this last concept here.)

2. Climate Change: Tie

The two candidates set practically identical milestones for reducing carbon emissions. Obama correctly covers the international cooperation dimension of the issue, McCain the technological innovation.

3. Energy: Paris Hilton

McCain’s X-prize for plug-in hybrids, 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030, and clean coal technologies are crucial as a short term solution to our impending energy crisis. Obama’s support for the digital smart grid, increasing new building efficiency by 50 percent, extending the Production Tax Credit, and requiring 10 percent of American electricity come from renewable sources by 2012 will put this country on a real road to permanent energy independence.

So Paris Hilton’s plan takes it:

We can do limited offshore drilling with strict environmental oversight, while creating tax incentives to get Detroit making hybrid and electric cars. That way, the offshore drilling carries us until the new technologies kick in, which will then create new jobs and energy independence. Energy crisis solved.

4. Education: Obama

While McCain recognizes the importance of Community Colleges and continuing education in America’s educational health, his only real increase in funding involves a $250 million grant program to expand online education opportunities. While this is nothing to scoff at, Obama’s education policy provides a comprehensive set of solutions, from programs to promote teachers in STEM subjects, a bill all ready introduced to support STEM education, an amendment to the America Competes Act to support summer education, Teacher Service Scholarships, a Teacher Residency Program, and Career Ladders to attract qualified STEM teachers. Obama will also provide Americans a $4,000 American Opportunity Tax Credit to higher education.

5. National Security: Obama

While Obama’s plan to double basic research for the Department of Defense seems like giving even more money to an agency that gets more than enough funding as it is, it is McCain who makes the strongest argument for why Obama’s plan will benefit the American people, when he says, “We are benefiting today from technology that was invented for military use a quarter of a century ago (e.g. the Internet, email, GPS, Teflon).”

If we accept the logic that innovations from military R&D trickle down to the general public, then it is Obama who clearly demonstrates a deep understanding of how to best direct our security research. While Obama wants to correct the management problems at the DHS, accelerate alternative energies to cure our petroleum dependence, restore domestic production of critical defense systems, and enhance connections between researchers and soldiers in the field, McCain, strangely enough, offers no hard details at all.

6. Pandemics and Biosecurity: Obama

Both Obama and McCain adhere to the “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here” approach to preventing bioterrorism, which leaves America completely open to attack from homegrown terrorists like Bruce Ivins and Timothy McVeigh. Obama takes a slight edge over McCain on this subject for his plan to work with the international community to contain pandemics, while McCain emphasizes a local community response, which would do nothing to prevent a bird flu pandemic from coming into America.

7. Genetics Research: Obama

McCain acknowledges the potential power of genetics research, and makes a great point about the potential for genetically engineered crops to alleviate hunger in impoverished nations. He also emphasizes the need for oversight of this growing field. In comparison to Obama’s statements, however, McCain’s appear nebulous in their lack of specifics.

Obama recognizes the impact genetics research will have on medicine, agriculture, energy, environmental sciences, and information technology. He has introduced the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act of 2007 and recognizes the importance of following the recommendations of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee.

8. Stem Cells: Obama

McCain does not specifically state that he will lift the ban on federal funding for stem cell lines beyond what is currently funded and he hopes technology will eliminate the need for embryonic stem cells, while Obama clearly states he will lift the ban and expand federal funding for stem cells.

9. Ocean Health: Tie

McCain demonstrates a clear understanding of the nature of the myriad threats to our marine ecosystems. From invasive species, pollution, agricultural runoff, and over-fishing, he recognizes the multi-faceted approach necessary to preserving our ocean’s health.

Obama demonstrates a clear understanding of the tools at his disposal to effectively implement policies to protect our Oceans. From NASA, the NOAA, NSF, USGS, the Law of Sea convention, Coastal Zone Management Act, National Marine Sanctuaries and Oceans and Human Health Acts are all recognized as part of the arsenal an American President has at his or her disposal for keep our Oceans healthy.

10. Water: Neither

McCain showed a slightly better understanding of the issue. Obama showed a slightly better understanding of the technology to solve it. Neither candidate recognizes the gravity of the situation, which probably the result of it mostly being a state-level issue at present. Wait until two states go to war in the courts over who has the rights to a river, and we’ll see the issue get some real attention.

11. Space: McCain

Obama recognizes the importance of dazzling the world with an American Space Program both human and robotic; however, it is McCain that clearly demonstrates a comprehensive view of the world space race currently underway. McCain gives an excellent overview of the Chinese, Russian, Japanese, and European space programs and what they are accomplishing.

McCain acknowledges that the scientists are highly critical of the scientific value of human space flight, but emphasizes its importance for inspiring Americans to continue supporting the space program. As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, he has directed legislation to fund space exploration, Earth science, and aeronautics research, as well as legislation to enable the commercial space industry, improve NASA after the Columbia accident, and control costs at NASA. McCain has also asked the Bush Administration to continue the space shuttle program until the Ares/Orion vehicle is ready to launch.

(There was much more to McCain’s plan, which I don’t have the time to include here.)

12. Scientific Integrity: Obama

Both Obama and McCain will restore scientific integrity to the White House. McCain makes the excellent point that government research is funded by taxpayers, and, therefore, taxpayers have a right to that research uncensored and they have a right to an administration that will follow that research. McCain will restore the science and technology advisor to the White House and strengthen the OSTP.

Obama will use information technology to provide an increased level of transparency for the White House and increase participation by American’s in debates surrounding science policies. Obama’s team of science advisors includes several Nobel Laureates. He promises to appoint qualified individuals to science advisory positions, no matter their ideology. He will establish the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and will strengthen PCAST.

13. Research: Obama

Slight edge to Obama here. Both candidates recognize the importance of basic research, but it is Obama who notes that our science agencies “are often able to support no more than one in ten proposals that they receive.” Both candidates will increase funding for basic research, but it is Obama who clearly states he will double basic research budgets over the next decade.

How will we pay for this? Basic research ultimately pays for itself.

14. Health: Obama

Both candidates recognize the disparity between what American’s pay for healthcare and the quality of healthcare we receive in comparison to other countries. McCain feels our pain and hopes technology will ease it. Obama proposes solutions to solve it such as requiring insurance companies to cover preventative medicine, protecting the patient’s right to choose their doctor, and supporting the NIH, CDC, and FDA’s efforts to monitor the health of the American people.


  1. Georgia and Tennessee are arguing over their border. If the border were actually where Congress said it should be then the Tennessee River would be accessible for use by Georgians.

    Comment by Sgant — October 2, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  2. Excellent summary!

    Comment by Dave — October 4, 2008 @ 10:28 am

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