Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Barack Obama Responds to the Science Debate Questions

From Darlene the Science Cheerleader:

McCain's responses are supposedly "in work." Being who I am, I cannot resist commenting on Obama's responses. Here it goes...


My administration will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade. We will increase research grants for early-career researchers to keep young scientists entering these fields. We will increase support for high-risk, high-payoff research portfolios at our science agencies. And we will invest in the breakthrough research we need to meet our energy challenges and to transform our defense programs.
The Bush Administration is already doing this.

A vigorous research and development program depends on encouraging talented people to enter science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and giving them the support they need to reach their potential. My administration will work to guarantee to students access to strong science curriculum at all grade levels so they graduate knowing how science works – using hands-on, IT-enhanced education. As president, I will launch a Service Scholarship program that pays undergraduate or graduate teaching education costs for those who commit to teaching in a high-need school, and I will prioritize math and science teachers. Additionally, my proposal to create Teacher Residency Academies will also add 30,000 new teachers to high-need schools – training thousands of science and math teachers. I will also expand access to higher education, work to draw more of these students into science and engineering, and increase National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate fellowships. My proposals for providing broadband Internet connections for all Americans across the country will help ensure that more students are able to bolster their STEM achievement.
“I will…I will…I will…” We have a Congress too.

Progress in science and technology must be backed with programs ensuring that U.S. businesses have strong incentives to convert advances quickly into new business opportunities and jobs. To do this, my administration will make the R&D tax credit permanent.

Specifically, I will implement a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. I will start reducing emissions immediately by establishing strong annual reduction targets with an intermediate goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. A cap- and-trade program draws on the power of the marketplace to reduce emissions in a cost- effective and flexible way. I will require all pollution credits to be auctioned.
This will slow our economy while benefiting China and India, which are our biggest competitors and will NOT sign onto this system.

First, I have proposed programs that, taken together, will increase federal investment in the clean energy research, development, and deployment to $150 billion over ten years. This research will cover:
• Basic research to develop alternative fuels and chemicals;
Does this include Helium-3 or space solar power alternatives?

• A new generation of nuclear electric technologies that address cost, safety, waste disposal, and proliferation risks.
Nothing about more drilling, which is the biggest near-term concern (0-15 years out), which is NEEDED to reduce energy prices now and fill in the gap until new nuke plants or other alternatives come available.

Second, it is essential that we create a strong, predictable market for energy innovations with concrete goals that speed introduction of innovative products and provide a strong incentive for private R&D investment in energy technologies. These concrete goals include:
A strong, predictable market with concrete goals requires government planning and oversight, which is not capitalism, but socialism.

I will also encourage communities around the nation to design and build sustainable communities that cut energy use with walkable community designs and expanded investment in mass transit.
A “walkable” community, while great in theory, in reality will have to restrict freedom of movement via automobile either through edict or economic disincentives. New mass transit systems will mean new taxes. Good luck selling either one in a soft economy.

All American citizens need high quality STEM education that inspires them to know more about the world around them, engages them in exploring challenging questions, and involves them in high quality intellectual work. STEM education is no longer only for those pursuing STEM careers; it should enable all citizens to solve problems, collaborate, weigh evidence, and communicate ideas. I will work to ensure that all Americans, including those in traditionally underrepresented groups, have the knowledge and skills they need to engage in society, innovate in our world, and compete in the global economy.
Encouraging skill-based credentials via testing (e.g. CPA-type exams) instead of requiring college degrees would open more jobs to more people who otherwise couldn’t afford or wouldn’t want to attend a four-year university. Individuals taking said comprehensive tests would only have to PASS them—where they get the education is not the concern; they could be high school graduates, trade school students, or home-schooled. Upon passing the exam, the individuals taking them would be able to enter the workforce, ideally without incurring crushing debts.

I will make sure that through the new $4,000 American Opportunity Tax Credit, they will have access to affordable higher education that will provide them with the science fluency they need to be leaders in STEM fields and across broad sectors of our society.
This tax credit could also go toward paying for application/test fees, which would be a great deal less expensive than $4,000 (unless the CPA exam really IS that high…).

When Sputnik was launched in 1957, President Eisenhower used the event as a call to arms for Americans to help secure our country and to increase the number of students studying math and science via the National Defense Education Act. That educational base not only improved our national security and space programs but also led to our economic growth and innovation over the second half of the century. Our nation is again hearing a threatening “ping” in the distance, this time not from a single satellite in space but instead from threats that range from asymmetric conflicts to cyber attacks, biological terror and nuclear proliferation. I will lead the nation to be prepared to meet this 21st- century challenge by investing again in math and science education, which is vital to protecting our national security and our competitiveness.
“I will lead the nation…”

This year, I was encouraged to see the Department of Defense (DoD) requested a sharp increase in the basic research budget for breakthrough technologies. More is needed. My administration will put basic defense research on a path to double and will assure strong funding for investments in DoD’s applied research programs.
Where’s the money for this going to come from?

Finally, we will act to reverse the erosion of the U.S. manufacturing base - which could jeopardize our technical superiority. We need to continue to develop the finest defense systems in the world. But, we are losing domestic production capability for critical defense components and systems. I will implement the recommendations of the Defense Science Board on defense manufacturing, strengthen efforts at DoD’s Manufacturing Technology program, and invest in innovative manufacturing sciences and processes to cut manufacturing costs and increase efficiency.
Some of this relates to the ITAR problem.

Overseas, I will launch a Shared Security Partnership that invests $5 billion over 3 years to forge an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks.
Where’s this money going to come from? What specifically will be done with it?

And to ensure our country is prepared should such an event occur, we must provide our public health system across the country with the surge capacity to confront a crisis and improve our ability to cope with infectious diseases. I will invest in new vaccines and technology to detect attacks and to trace them to their origin, so that we can react in a timely fashion. I have pledged to invest $10 billion per year over the next 5 years in electronic health information systems to not only improve routine health care, but also ensure that these systems will give health officials the crucial information they need to deploy resources and save lives in an emergency. I will help hospitals form collaborative networks to deal with sudden surges in patients and will ensure that the U.S. has adequate supplies of medicines, vaccines, and diagnostic tests and can get these vital products into the hands of those who need them.
I will…I will…I have…I will…

Disease treatment and identification is likewise being transformed by modern genetics. Recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology has produced a number of products such as human growth hormone or insulin or other complicated proteins that are known to be involved in bone metabolism, immune response, and tissue repair. The promise of rDNA is its ability to sidestep potentially harmful intermediaries that could have a pathogenic effect. Some forms of gene therapy-replacing faulty genes with functional copies-in comparison have encountered safety issues that arise from how the functional gene is delivered. As a result, the NIH established the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, which now provides advice and guidance on human gene therapy as well as other ethical concerns or potential abuse of rDNA technology. Until we are equipped to ascertain the safety of such methods, I will continue to support the activities and recommendations of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee.
No objection to anything here, but I’ll be curious to see how Obama (or McCain) deals with the EU’s objection to using genetically modified food products.

For these reasons, I strongly support expanding research on stem cells. I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations. As president, I will lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.
Opponents of the research would say that harvesting stem cells from aborted fetuses is, by its very nature, unethical and immoral.

I recognize that some people object to government support of research that requires cells to be harvested from human embryos. However, hundreds of thousands of embryos stored in the U.S. in in-vitro fertilization clinics will not be used for reproductive purposes, and will eventually be destroyed. I believe that it is ethical to use these extra embryos for research that could save lives when they are freely donated for that express purpose.
Well, at least he explained his rationale.

I am also aware that there have been suggestions that human stem cells of various types, derived from sources other than embryos, make the use of embryonic stem cells unnecessary. I don’t agree. While adult stem cells, such as those harvested from blood or bone marrow, are already used for treatment of some diseases, they do not have the versatility of embryonic stem cells and cannot replace them. Recent discoveries indicate that adult skin cells can be reprogrammed to behave like stem cells; these are exciting findings that might in the future lead to an alternate source of highly versatile stem cells. However, embryonic stem cells remain the “gold standard,” and studies of all types of stem cells should continue in parallel for the foreseeable future.
Note that adult stem cells have already been used for treatment of diseases, while embryonic stem cells have not; and yet the embryonic cells are considered the “gold standard.” I must wonder why.

The oceans are a global resource and a global responsibility for which the U.S. can and should take a more active role. I will work actively to ensure that the U.S. ratifies the Law of the Sea Convention – an agreement supported by more than 150 countries that will protect our economic and security interests while providing an important international collaboration to protect the oceans and its resources. My administration will also strengthen regional and bilateral research and oceans preservation efforts with other Gulf Coast nations.

The NSS has fought against the Law of the Sea Treaty for the last year (white paper penned by yours truly here) because it sets bad precedents for public property rights in space. That is, if we allow the United Nations to control who has control or access to the resources of open seas, what's to say they won't try to do the same if someone tries to mine asteroids or the Moon? Is he willing to take executive action that would state specifically that the Law of the Sea Treaty would NOT apply to space?

Solutions to this critical problem will require close collaboration between federal, state, and local governments and the people and businesses affected. First, prices and policies must be set in a ways that give everyone a clear incentive to use water efficiently and avoid waste.
This is flat-out interference by the federal government into what are essentially local issues.

Regulations affecting water use in appliances and incentives to shift from irrigated lawns to "water smart" landscapes are examples. Second, information, training, and, in some cases, economic assistance should be provided to farms and businesses that will need to shift to more efficient water practices. Many communities are offering kits to help businesses and homeowners audit their water use and find ways to reduce use. These should be evaluated, with the most successful programs expanded to other states and regions. I will establish a national plan to help high-growth regions with the challenges of managing their water supplies.
See my previous comment.

11. Space. The study of Earth from space can yield important information about climate change; focus on the cosmos can advance our understanding of the universe; and manned space travel can help us inspire new generations of youth to go into science. Can we afford all of them? How would you prioritize space in your administration?

As president, I will establish a robust and balanced civilian space program. Under my administration, NASA not only will inspire the world with both human and robotic space exploration, but also will again lead in confronting the challenges we face here on Earth, including global climate change, energy independence, and aeronautics research. In achieving this vision, I will reach out to include international partners and to engage the private sector to amplify NASA’s reach. I believe that a revitalized NASA can help America maintain its innovation edge and contribute to American economic growth. There is currently no organizational authority in the federal government with a sufficiently broad mandate to oversee a comprehensive and integrated strategy and policy dealing with all aspects of the government’s space-related programs, including those being managed by NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, and other federal agencies. This wasn’t always the case. Between 1958 and 1973, the National Aeronautics and Space Council oversaw the entire space arena for four presidents; the Council was briefly revived from 1989 to 1992. I will re-establish this Council reporting to the president. It will oversee and coordinate civilian, military, commercial, and national security space activities. It will solicit public participation, engage the international community, and work toward a 21st century vision of space that constantly pushes the envelope on new technologies as it pursues a balanced national portfolio that expands our reach into the heavens and improves life here on Earth.
My comments on these positions have been stated elsewhere.

12. Scientific Integrity. Many government scientists report political interference in their job. Is it acceptable for elected officials to hold back or alter scientific reports if they conflict with their own views, and how will you balance scientific information with politics and personal beliefs in your decision-making?
Click here to review my previous objections to this and the previous question.

• Establish the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will lead an interagency effort on best-in-class technologies, sharing of best practices, and safeguarding of our networks;
Oh, goody. Another new cabinet position. And with that position will come a staff (you're nobody in Washington unless you have a staff), and then an agency under the staff.

• Strengthen the role of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) by appointing experts who are charged to provide independent advice on critical issues of science and technology. The PCAST will once again be advisory to the president; and
Is this the same as the Office of Technology Assessment? What will it do? How much authority will "strengthening" provide PCAST?

Federally supported basic research, aimed at understanding many features of nature— from the size of the universe to subatomic particles, from the chemical reactions that support a living cell to interactions that sustain ecosystems—has been an essential feature of American life for over fifty years. While the outcomes of specific projects are never predictable, basic research has been a reliable source of new knowledge that has fueled important developments in fields ranging from telecommunications to medicine, yielding remarkable rates of economic return and ensuring American leadership in industry, military power, and higher education. I believe that continued investment in fundamental research is essential for ensuring healthier lives, better sources of energy, superior military capacity, and high-wage jobs for our nation’s future.
Yea, verily.

Sustained and predictable increases in research funding will allow the United States to accomplish a great deal. First, we can expand the frontiers of human knowledge. Second, we can provide greater support for high-risk, high-return research and for young scientists at the beginning of their careers. Third, we can harness science and technology to address the “grand challenges” of the 21st century: energy, health, food and water, national security, information technology, and manufacturing capacity.
Again, very true. No argument. However, where's the money going to come from?

The effectiveness of medical care can be improved, and its costs can be reduced, by greater emphasis on best practices, electronic medical records, hospital safety, preventive strategies, and improved public health surveillance.
What about tort reform, which reduces patient fraud and would increase incentives for people to become doctors?

Anyhow, these responses, like the recent seven-page Obama statement on space, are a mixed bag of reasonable and unreasonable, simplicity and unnecessary complexity. It has some good places, but it is not consistent, or clearly coherent. Government does do better when investing in/spending on basic research that is unlikely to show immediate, obvious return on investment. It does less well when attempting to pick winners and losers. Taxes, regulations, and incentives can do some things, but--as with prizes in the space business--they cannot do everything. However, the Obama campaign isn't likely to listen to me or put me on the payroll. Just as well.

We'll see what McCain has to say.


Unknown said...

Oh, hey, I know where we could get some money! We could cancel the ridiculous expense of a war that's doing us no good whatsoever. And possibly stop with the machismo dick-waving about starting *another* one next door to the current one.

Anonymous said...

Way to keep 'em on their toes, Bart. I hope Obama, McCain and anyone claiming to be interested in science reads your blog.

Bart said...


Well, that's one idea. Another might be to set up term limits for members of congress so they don't feel the urge to continually buy their way into office by spending like drunken sailors on everything from bridges to nowhere to Woodstock memorials to (yes) war.


Unknown said...

Term limits work for me across the board. Especially if the limit is "one term." Entrenched politicos are second only to PACs in completely fucking up our political process.