Science Debate 2008: Candidates Invited

02/12/2008 11:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Twelve weeks after launching our website,, over 15,000 people -- most, but not all, involved in science, technology, or academia -- have signed on in support of our petition calling for a presidential debate on science and technology policy.

At the end of last week, we sent invitations to Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Barack Obama. We are waiting to hear from them.

Among those signing the letter were 89 Organizations, mostly connected to science, technology and academia; 25 Nobel or Crafoord laureates; 32 Government Leaders from both sides of the aisle, including former science advisers to both Republican and Democratic presidents; 44 College and University Presidents; 74 Organization Leaders; 67 Academic and Leading Scientists; 32 Business Leaders, including Craig Barrett of Intel; and 39 Editors, Writers, and Other Thought Leaders, including the editors of Seed, Nature, The Scientist, Science, Scientific American, and Wired.

Our feeling is that in spite of numerous candidate debates, the most vital and far reaching issues of our times have more or less been ignored. None of the candidates have been asked the questions that mattered most:

What are the candidates' detailed plans for the environment, for making sure that we, and more importantly, our children, will be able to live on a healthy and sustainable planet? What should be done about climate change, species loss, fragile oceans, population issues, and threats to global water supplies?

What are the candidates' plans for dealing with medical issues, global diseases and pandemics, funding for medical research, or with the promising but ethically complex ramifications of stem cell research and the decoding of the genome?

What should be done about the strong competition to American scientific innovation that has lately emerged from Asia? What will the next president do to promote and stimulate the scientific and technological communities? How can science education be improved? How can we regain the kind of scientific enthusiasm last seen in the fifties and sixties?

We are a non-partisan citizen-based initiative. The co-chairs of our steering committee are the two influential physicists in Congress, Republican Vern Ehlers, and Democrat Rush Holt. Our co-sponsors for the debate are The National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, the Council on Competitiveness, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia will host the debate in the week preceding the Pennsylvania primary in April.

From the start, naysayers have claimed this will never happen. The most depressing reason given is that the public is not interested in science and technology issues and so the candidates can afford to say no.

We do not believe this is true. To say "no" to a debate on science and technology is to say no to all the millions of Americans whose jobs depend on science and technology, and all their children who will have to drink the water and breathe the air we leave them. To say "no" to this debate is to say no to everyone who is sick in this country, or might get sick, or is related to anyone who is sick. And to say "no" to this debate is to say no to all the business leaders who want to know what the next president plans to do to stimulate technological innovation in the face of competition from abroad.

In other words to say not to us is to say no to working people, children, the sick, and the rich and powerful! Of course we can make this debate happen. We can make it happen because it's about the future of America and the rest of the world. And isn't that what we want this presidential campaign to be about?