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Why The Silence On Science?

Having declined to discuss matters of science and technology at a forum hosted by the truly non-partisan forum ScienceDebate2008, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have agreed to participate in "The Compassion Forum" where I assume they will compete in high-minded but anodyne phraseology to prove that they believe in God -- but not blindingly. Religiously, Hillary hails from social gospel Methodism and Obama, well, we'll hear from where he hails...The forum aims, said the organizers, at "wide-ranging and probing discussions of policies related to moral issues."  "The presidential-candidate forum on faith, values and other current issues" will be telecast on CNN and held at Messiah College, an institution founded by and part of the Brethren in Christ Church, situated in the unincorporated village of Grantham, Pennsylvania. The date is April 13, nine days before the Pennsylvania mega-primary.

This is all well and good, although the militantly secular supporters of both candidates may do better to go to a concert (or go bowling, even "bowling alone," as the distinguished political scientist Robert Putnam put it) that night rather than risk getting thrown off balance by the piety of the contenders.

But here's something that does rile me. For several months now, I have been not so marginally involved in the effort of ScienceDebate2008 to air their views about issues of science and engineering as they affect American society. This, by the way, goes way beyond the morally laden matter of climate change to which no candidate has devoted much intellectual effort or time and consideration. This should be a scandal. At last look, it is far from it. You wonder why Al Gore hasn't endorsed anybody. I haven't spoken to him about this. But I do not wonder why.

As it happens, scientific issues also not discussed in this campaign are stem cell research, genomics, genetically manipulated crops, the reinforcing dynamics of drug development and the profit system, biodiversity, population, clean energy (INCLUDING NUCLEAR POWER), the destruction of species, etc.  Health insurance, on which Hillary purports to be senior professor, has never been discussed in this campaign in the context of medical research, probably the most significant factor affecting care of patients. 

Encompassing all of these matters and more is the fact that the modern American economy has been built on scientific research, technological development and engineering skills. Almost to the exclusion of other factors. But the teaching of science is on the decline in our high schools, which bodes ill for how it will fare in even our best colleges and universities. One reliable source suggests that by 2010 -- maybe this is a bit overstated -- "90% of all scientists and engineers will live in Asia."

Nobody in this campaign, neither Obama, nor Hillay, nor John McCain, has so much as mentioned this. Yet the American future depends on American advances in science and engineering.

This is not a crank position. The group (mentioned above twice) trying to get a discussion going among the presidential candidates has the support of more than fifty Nobel Laureates in the sciences, dozens of eminent and accomplished university and college presidents, more dozens of truly learned women and men in the sciences and humane professions and others (including yours truly.) We have not made a mark in this campaign. Of what are the candidates so frightened? Let's see their brains have to stretch, and for God's sake, too.