Science Debate update: Obama’s answers are online

Science Debate 2008, to which I earlier signed on with some reservations, has posted Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s answers to the “top 14” questions organizers culled from issues suggested by the petition’s 38,000 signers.

Overall, the questions were decent: a few could be called leading, but no more so than is typical for candidate questionnaires by other special-interest groups. And make no mistake, the Science Debate signers are a special interest group, a list dominated by those who make a living performing federally funded research or leading research institutions that are themselves heavily dependent on the federal government, or representing either or both category in Washington. I have nothing against that; I just still wish the organizers were a bit more frank and self-aware.

I was pleased to find that the answers provided by the Obama campaign team were solid and workmanlike. They certainly didn’t sound much like the candidate’s own rhetorical style, but that again is typical in such situations. The answers committed no obvious errors, and I was particularly impressed that in the final question (on the role of science and research in improving healthcare), the Obama team forthrightly cautioned, “These are difficult problems, and science and technology can solve only some of them.”

In fact, it seemed to me that the questions led the answerers into some temptation to confuse policy informed by research with research itself, and technology diffusion with technology development or “use inspired research.” And then there’s the usual ambiguity on whether “technology” means just “information technology” or something broader (both uses can be found). Overall, the answers bear some attention, and it will be well worth waiting for the parallel submission from Republican candidate John McCain.

As I indicated in an update to my earlier post, the organizers have taken steps to qualify as a public charity, and their credibility rises somewhat in the process, even as I watch motives carefully.

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