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Obama And Romney Answer Top American Science Questions

4 Sep

In 2007, friends and I launched ScienceDebate - a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative to get presidential candidates to address science and technology issues along the campaign trail. This year we presented both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney with fourteen questions focusing on key science policy issues like energy, climate change, food security, and more. Today we have their answers!

Here’s an excerpt, but make sure to read all of their positions here:

6. Energy. Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet the demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

Barack Obama:

Since taking office, I have supported an all-of-the-above energy approach that will allow us to take control of our energy future, one where we safely and responsibly develop America’s many energy resources – including natural gas, wind, solar, oil, clean coal, and biofuels – while investing in clean energy and increasing fuel efficiency standards to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

I know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the global economy in the 21st century. That’s why I have made the largest investment in clean energy and energy efficiency in American history and proposed an ambitious Clean Energy Standard to generate 80 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources like wind, solar, clean coal, and natural gas by 2035. Since taking office, electricity production from wind and solar sources has already more than doubled in the United States. We are boosting our use of cleaner fuels, including increasing the level of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline and implementing a new Renewable Fuel Standard that will save nearly 14 billion gallons of petroleum-based gasoline in 2022. America has regained its position as the world’s leading producer of natural gas. My administration is promoting the safe, responsible development of America’s near 100-year supply of natural gas that will help support more than 600,000 jobs. Because of these actions, we are positioning ourselves to have cleaner and cheaper sources of fuel that make us more energy secure and position the U.S. as a world leader in the clean energy economy.

Mitt Romney:

A crucial component of my plan for a stronger middle class is to dramatically increase domestic energy production and partner closely with Canada and Mexico to achieve North American energy independence by 2020. While President Obama has described his own energy policy as a “hodgepodge,” sent billions of taxpayer dollars to green energy projects run by political cronies, rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline as not in “the national interest,” and sought repeatedly to stall development of America’s domestic resources, my path forward would establish America as an energy superpower in the 21st century.

The goal of energy independence has long proved elusive, but analysts across the spectrum — energy experts, investment firms, even academics at Harvard University — now recognize that surging U.S. energy production, combined with the resources of America’s neighbors, can meet all of the continent’s energy needs within a decade. The key is to embrace these resources and open access to them.

A successful national energy strategy will have a fundamental influence on the well-being of the nation. An expansion in the affordable, reliable supply of domestically produced energy can bolster the competitiveness of virtually every industry within the country, creating millions of new jobs from coast to coast. With fewer energy imports and more exports of manufactured goods, America’s trade deficit will decline and the dollar will strengthen.

The benefits even extend beyond immediate economic growth. The lease payments, royalties, and taxes paid to the American people in return for the development of the nation’s resources can yield literally trillions of dollars in new government revenue. Lower energy prices can ease the burdens on household budgets. And all Americans can rest assured that the nation’s security is no longer beholden to unstable but oil-rich regions half way around the world.

I have put forward a six-part plan for achieving these goals. First, I will empower states to control onshore energy development, including on federal lands within their borders. Second, I will open offshore areas to development. Third, I will pursue a North American Energy Partnership so that America can benefit from the resources of its neighbors. Fourth, I will ensure accurate assessment of the nation’s energy resources by updating decades-old surveys that do not reflect modern technological capabilities. Fifth, I will restore transparency and fairness to permitting and regulation. And sixth, I will facilitate private-sector-led development of new energy technologies.

Throughout this agenda, I remain committed to implementing and enforcing strong environmental protections that ensure all energy development activity is conducted in a safe and responsible manner. But whereas President Obama has used environmental regulation as an excuse to block the development of resources and the construction of infrastructure, I will pursue a course that designs regulation not to stifle energy production but instead to facilitate responsible use of all energy sources — from oil and coal and natural gas, to nuclear and hydropower and biofuels, to wind and solar. Energy development, economic growth, and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand if the government focuses on transparency and fairness instead of seeking to pick winners and repay political favors.

A full white paper describing my plan for energy independence is available at


Are You Satisfied With The Job Congress Is Doing To Address Energy Issues?

16 Jul

The most recent UT Energy Poll found that overall, just 5 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way Congress is addressing the energy issues most important to them. However, a closer look at the data reveals there are notable differences among age groups:

How satisfied are you with the job Congress is doing to address the energy issues most important to you?

You’re Missing Something, Trust Me

5 Mar

Yesterday I found myself in an interesting conversation with a biologist regarding climate change. We were talking about how the loss of permafrost will be particularly devastating given the positive feedback loop that will lead to warmer temperatures. The subject was carbon emissions…

And that’s exactly where I was focused when I started seriously studying climate change. I was a graduate student at the University of Maine in the School of Marine Science interested in ocean acidification – the way all of our excess carbon is changing ocean pH and the marine environment in ways we cannot yet predict. (A topic that has yet to make a dent in the mainstream media, but soon we won’t be able to ignore as easily).

From there I moved into the political realm, working for Senator Bill Nelson on oceans, environment, and energy. It was the year of An Inconvenient Truth and emphasis was on whether cap and trade might pass. On the Hill, climate was inextricably linked to policy discussions that would ultimately fail, setting us back at least 10 years.

Next came Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment where climate is on everyone’s mind. I was part of The Pimm Group, which is interested in the conservation of biodiversity by saving forests. And since deforestation contributes tremendously to our GHG problem, reforestation would not only trap carbon, but also protect hotspots for threatened species.

Four years later I moved to UT’s Austin’s School of Engineering. Same topic, different language. Climate, after all, is really an energy conversation. Engineers are a more optimistic generally, but very practical as well. At The Webber Energy Group, we were focused on finding solutions through new technologies and more efficient practices.

Now I work at the McCombs School of Business as Director of UT’s Project on Energy Communication. It’s an initiative to understand public attitudes and perceptions of energy topics like hydraulic fracturing, the Keystone Pipeline, renewables, and more–which in turn, will be extremely useful in related policy discussions.

I don’t expect many people spend time in as many academic silos as I have–and with each step I’ve come to appreciate a different way of thinking about the same problem. The language, expertise, interests, and motivations change along the way, but they are all players in a much larger symphony that tells the story of, perhaps, the greatest global challenge we face: A changing planet.

I still have much to learn. But that’s just the point. We all do. So while it’s easy to barricade ourselves off from other compartmentalized departments by presuming we’re the ones who truly understand the arduous road ahead, that’s a losing strategy.

Instead, keep an open mind and talk to colleagues in other fields. You might begin to perceive your own questions in a myriad of new ways. And if we work hard at understanding each other – we might actually make progress.

Time To Double-Down On Clean Energy

25 Jan

“It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.

We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives. The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change. But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation. So far, you haven’t acted. Well tonight, I will. I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.

Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So here’s another proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings. Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, and more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs.”

~ excerpt from President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address

The Rise and Fall of NOAA – A Cautionary Tale

16 Jan

This post originally appeared at DC Dispatches by Philip H.

Taking Advantage of the late day Friday news cycle lull, President Obama announced the demise of the modern Commerce Department at the federal level at the end of last week. In its stead, the “core business functions” of the Commerce Department will now be combined with several other federal business related agencies – including the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Office of the International Trade Representative, and the International Trade Administration – to form a new business agency, temporarily headed at the Cabinet level by the current Administrator of the SBA.

Receiving less press coverage – but no less important – is what will happen to the 65% of the Commerce Department budget currently known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Like many presidents before him, Mr Obama dismissively sends them to the Interior Department, where many in the conservation community have long argued they should be. See, NOAA is in Commerce because President Nixon put it there in a spite-filled decision aimed at keeping his Interior secretary from growing more powerful. The spite was over the Secretary’s stance on Vietnam. And since NOAA does not have legislative authorization (an Organic Act), the shot-gun marriage from 1970 has stuck.

As I see it, this plan was hatched under three significant – and significantly wrong assumptions:

Equal Words Equals Waste and Inefficiency: In what can only be described as an attempt at a joke that went horribly wrong, the President presaged this move in last year’s State of the Union Speech:

“There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

    On the Surface he is correct – both NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service share jurisdiction over SOME salmon in a single region of the U.S. Atlantic Salmon – which are currently to be found primarily in Maine – are co-managed by both agencies under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But if you actually Google their respective websites, you will find that their actions are complementary, and not overlapping. You’ll also find that a significant amount of the actual work is done by the state of Maine for both agencies.
      Out west, pacific salmon are regulated by NOAA alone, under both the ESA and the Magnuson-Stevens Act (which regulated U.S. Commercial Marine Fishing since pacific salmon can still be commercially harvested). Having learned how hard comanagement was, the Interior Department deferred to NOAA for the ESA, thought they still work closely with the agency on many issues relating to pacific salmon. NOAA has “sole custody” of Magnuson actions, so there is no duplication or overlap there. Bottom line – just because

GAO can find the same words describing programs in similar agencies, that doesn’t mean there is duplication. Often, programs that sound the same on paper are working on different parts of the same issue.

If It Looks Broken, Clearly We need a New One: The only reason there are nearly as many contracts and consultants doing federal work in the U.S. as actually federal employees is that our politicians seems to have been brainwashed into thinking that all problems can be solved by creating new and different programs and departments to address old and persistent problems. They have also been brainwashed (mostly) into thinking efficiency will bring effectiveness in delivering federal programs.

Don’t believe me, then read the assessment of the Department of Homeland Security put out last year by GAO. In it, they highlight three key challenges for the organization:

GAO’s work identified three themes at the foundation of DHS’s challenges Leading and coordinating the homeland security enterprise; Implementing and integrating management functions for results; and Strategically managing risks and assessing homeland security efforts. This testimony contains no new recommendations.

Simply put, ten years after 9/11, and 8 years after Congress cobbled DHS together from 20 previously existing entities, efficiency and integration are NOT hallmarks of the department.

Ironically, in the case of Commerce, I happen to agree with the President that all the federal functions relating to business should probably be in one place. I actually mistakenly thought several of the players named above in the consolidation list were already in Commerce. But harkening to the advice the GAO imparts here (which I find unusually sage for them ), I have to ask – will these business functions be better managed, delivered more effectively, and thus create efficiencies and cost savings in a brand new organization? Or would it make more sense to shed the non-business parts of Commerce and fold thus stuff in? My sense having worked in federal budget formulation, as well as long-range strategic planning is that the savings and efficiencies (if there are any to be gained) would be from the later approach. Of course, I am not a well paid management consultant, so I am probably missing some important connection – or not.

Even a Decent Idea Can Get Trumped by Federal Statutes: Moving NOAA to Interior will take more then Congressional authorization and a Presidential Executive Order. It will take re-writing 92 federal statutes that tell NOAA what to do. Some of the legislation – like the Weather Bureau Organic Act – is older then NOAA itself. All of it either tells the Secretary of Commerce to do something – i.e. the ESA or Magnuson-Stevens – or tells NOAA to do something, often referencing the Commerce Department along the way. Given that NOAA is routinely sued under the ESA and MSA now, it is a virtual certainty that NOT changing any of this legislation while moving NOAA to Interior will lead to an upswing in litigation. That upswing will NOT enhance efficiency, and will be even more of a drain on the limited federal resource stat NOAA brings to bear on these issues. There’s also a Law of Unintended Consequences at work here – all sorts of things could be added to these efforts at legislative rewriting that are more detrimental to the U.S. then anything currently on the books.

So what’s your answer smarty pants: Simply this – if we must rearrange the deck chairs, move NOAA out of Commerce, and allow it to stand alone, like the EPA, NASA, and NSF do now. Pass a NOAA Organic Act to do this, and settle what NOAA is and Isn’t once and for all. The NOAA Administrator, as Undersecretary of Commerce – is already Senate Confirmed, so there would be no change in procedure for selection of that person. Likewise, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees would still retain the same jurisdiction, which in the end may be the most significant hurdle to the plan as currently proposed. Pull the SBA and all the other business related entities into Commerce, where the management inefficiencies that still plague DHS will be few, since Commerce has been around for a hundred years or so as an executive department.

My plan is likely to never come to pass of course – it makes too much sense, and Washington D.C. is a place where common sense seems to have jumped out the window and run off screaming.

When Science Intersects With Politics: Tune In Sunday Night

13 Jan

This Sunday I’ll be on Skeptically Speaking:

This week, it’s a panel discussion about what happens when science intersects with politics. We’re joined by Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-author of Unscientific America, anthropologist/blogger Greg Laden, and Shawn Lawrence Otto, co-founder of and author of Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America. We’ll explore the tension between evidence and rhetoric, and what happens when public policy ignores solid science. And on the podcast, National Center for Science Education Executive Director Eugenie Scott returns to discuss an exciting new project to defend scientific consensus.

We record live with our panelists on Sunday, January 15 at 6 pm MT. The podcast will be available to download at 9 pm MT on Friday, January 20.

You can email questions for us to discuss on-air to or join the chat during the show..

What Not To Do When Your Nation’s In Trouble

16 Nov

Congress will likely slash the budget of the Office of Science and Technology Policy by 32 percent:

A 2012 spending bill expected to be approved later this week slashes OSTP’s current $6.6 million budget to $4.5 million [and] “will have real consequences on OSTP’s operations.” According to spokesperson Rick Weiss, the cut will force OSTP “to prioritize existing activities” in fields ranging from science education to sustainable energy.

Bad news and the wrong priorities in a struggling economy. In a statement to ScienceInsider, AAAS CEO Alan Leshner explained that these changes will dramatically impact the federal government’s ability to coordinate, prioritize, and manage research and development. And he’s absolutely right.  The details are here.

Action Alert: Tell Congress To Support Federal Funding For The National Science Foundation

31 Oct

I urge readers to call your Senators and encourage them to support the National Science Foundation. Here’s why. Having worked in a Senate office, I can assure you that every call matters. I received these details by email:

Call your Senators by 5:00 ET today to urge them to support the House Appropriations Committee funding level of $6,859,867,000 (same funding level as for FY 2011) for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year (FY) 2012.

On Tuesday, 01 Nov, the full Senate will vote on a group of appropriations bills, which will include funding for the National Science Foundation. Unfortunately, the Senate bill set FY 2012 funding for the NSF $161 million below the House level. Consequently, House Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee (the appropriations subcommittee responsible for NSF) Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA), both NSF champions, need our support to get the Senate to agree to a FY 2012 NSF budget of $6,859,867,000.

Requested Action:

1. Call your two Senators. (Find your state, Senators, and their phone numbers below).

2. When connected to your Senator’s office, state your name, where you’re from, and “I’m calling today to urge the Senator to support the National Science Foundation at $6,859,867,000 for fiscal year 2012, the funding level set in the House spending bill.”

3. If asked, say that the $161 million reduction in funding for NSF proposed by the Senate will be detrimental to U.S science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research and education. Decreases would curtail the ability of the U.S. public and industrial research and development (R&D) sector to train and recruit the best and brightest scientists and engineers. Such a cut would undoubtedly affect the nation’s ability to maintain its international competitive advantage in the R&D sector in the future.

Additional Details If Asked or Needed:

- Many of our global competitors are increasing their financial support for scientific and engineering research while the rate of growth of funding for research in the U.S. is slowing. The U.S. must maintain its leadership position in high level scientific research and education and NSF is critical to this endeavor.

- Even under tight budget constraints, it is imperative to have robust annual budget levels for NSF as research and development investment leverage today’s knowledge to build long-term growth.

- NSF is the only federal agency that supports research and education across all fields of science, engineering, and mathematics and at all educational levels.

- Dependable funding levels will enable NSF and the science and engineering communities to plan, develop infrastructure, maintain a steady pipeline of graduate and postdoctoral students, and facilitate a continuous stream of high level research and researchers that in turn will support the level of technological development needed for economic growth.

- The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform noted that while it is necessary to make budget cuts, “at the same time we must invest in education, infrastructure, and high value research and development to help our economy grow, keep us globally competitive, and make it easier for businesses to create jobs.”

- Research and education programs supported by NSF increase and develop the knowledge base needed for pushing the frontiers of science, mathematics, and engineering disciplines, contribute to the development of the future science and technology workforce, develop new fields of inquiry, and promote interdisciplinary research and education, all of which facilitate technological innovation.

- In FY 2010, over 90 percent of NSF’s budget went to support research, facilities, and education projects in colleges and universities in all 50 states. The Foundation evaluated over 55,600 proposals through its merit review process, funding 13,000 of these proposals. This is a success rate of 23 percent, indicating the competitiveness of NSF grants. The success rate will continue to fall if NSF budgets don’t grow and potential substantial research and education results will not be realized. A healthy NSF is necessary for maintaining a prosperous innovation pipeline that ultimately leads to the development of new technologies, leading to new products and improvement of existing products.

Senators and Phone Numbers

- Richard C. Shelby-(202)-224-5744
- Jeff Sessions-(202)-224-4124

- Lisa Murkowski-(202)-224-6665
- Mark Begich-(202)-224-3004
- John McCain-(202)-224-2235
- Jon Kyl-(202)-224-4521
- Mark Pryor-(202)-224-2353
- John Boozman-(202)-224-4843
- Dianne Feinstein-(202)-224-3841
- Barbara Boxer-(202)-224-3553
- Mark Udall-(202)-224-5941
- Michael Bennet-(202)-224-5852
- Joseph Lieberman-(202)-224-4041
- Richard Blumenthal-(202)-224-2823
- Thomas Carper-(202)-224-2441
- Chris Coons-(202)-224-5042
- Bill Nelson-(202)-224-5274
- Marco Rubio-(202)-224-3041
- Saxby Chambliss-(202)-224-3521
- Johnny Isakson-(202)-224-3643
- Daniel Inouye-(202)-224-3934
- Daniel Akaka-(202)-224-6361
- Michael Crapo-(202)-224-6142
- Jim Risch-(202)-224-2752
- Richard Durbin-(202-224-2152
- Mark Steven Kirk-(202)-224-2854
- Richard Lugar-(202)-224-4814
- Dan Coats-(202)-224-5623
- Charles Grassley-(202)-224-3744
- Tom Harkin-(202)-224-3254
- Pat Roberts-(202)-224-4774
- Jerry Moran-(202)-224-6521
- Mitch McConnell-(202)-224-2541
- Rand Paul-(202)-224-4343
- Mary Landrieu-(202)-224-5824
- David Vitter-(202)-224-4623
- Olympia Snowe-(202)-224-5344
- Susan Collins-(202)-224-2523
- Barbara Mikulski-(202)-224-4654
- Benjamin Cardin-(202)-224-4524
- John Kerry-(202)-224-2742
- Scott Brown-(202)-224-4543
- Carl Levin-(202)-224-6221
- Debbie Stabenow-(202)-224-4822
- Amy Klobuchar-(202)-224-3244
- Al Franken-(202)-224-5641
- Thad Cochran-(202)-224-5054
- Roger Wicker-(202)-224-6253
- Claire McCaskill-202-224-6154
- Roy Blunt-(202)-224-5721
- Max Baucus-(202)-224-2651
- Jon Tester-(202)-224-2644
- Ben Nelson-(202)-224-6551
- Mike Johanns-(202)-224-4224
- Harry Reid-(202)-224-3542
- John Ensign-(202)-224-6244
New Hampshire
- Jeanne Shaheen-(202)-224-2841
- Kelly Ayotte-(202)-224-3324
New Jersey
- Frank Lautenberg-(202)-224-3224
- Robert Menendez-(202)-224-4744
New Mexico
- Jeff Bingaman-(202)-224-5521
- Tom Udall-(202)-224-6621
New York
- Charles Schumer-(202)-224-6542
- Kristen Gillibrand-(202)-224-4451
North Carolina
- Richard Burr-(202)-224-3154
- Kay Hagan-(202)-224-6342
North Dakota
- Kent Conrad-(202)-224-2043
- John Hoeven-(202)-224-2551
- Sherrod Brown-(202)-224-2315
- Rob Portman-(202)-224-3353
- James Inhofe-(202)-224-4721
- Tom Coburn-(202)-224-5754
- Ron Wyden-(202)-224-5244
- Jeff Merkley-(202)-224-3753
- Bob Casey-(202)-224-6324
- Patrick Toomey-(202)-224-4254
Rhode Island
- Jack Reed-(202)-224-4642
- Sheldon Whitehouse-(202)-224-2921
South Carolina
- Lindsey Graham-(202)-224-5972
- Jim DeMint-(202)-224-6121
South Dakota
- Tim Johnson-(202)-224-5842
- John Thune-(202)-224-2321
- Lamar Alexander-(202)-224-4944
- Bob Corker-(202)-224-3344
- Kay Bailey Hutchison-(202)-224-5922
- John Cornyn-(202)-224-2934
- Orrin Hatch-(202)-224-5251
- Mike Lee-(202)-224-5444
- Patrick Leahy-(202)-224-4242
- Bernard Sanders-(202)-224-5141
- Jim Webb-(202)-224-4024
- Mark Warner-(202)-224-2023
- Patty Murray-(202)-224-2621
- Maria Cantwell-(202)-224-3441
West Virginia
- John Rockefeller IV-(202)-224-6472
- Joe Manchin III-(202)-224-3954
- Herb Kohl-(202)-224-5653
- Ron Johnson-(202)-224-5323
- Michael Enzi-(202)-224-3424
- John Barrasso-(202)-224-6441

The Anti-Science Agenda

29 Oct

Over a dozen people emailed me the following Daily Show clip. I’m not laughing. I’ve met with people like this, who raise they’re voice over climate science, claiming “scientists are frauds out for money.” Typically they present no argument and come across poorly, as if parroting a script.

We must be prepared to counter such baseless attacks. “Can you predict the weather next week?” Weather and climate are not the same thing. “I bet you think Antarctica is melting.” Ocean pH is changing and no one refutes it’s due to man-made emissions. And of course, the Berkeley Earth study that came out last week, funded in part by the Koch family, demonstrates that global warming is real.

So while this segment is done brilliantly, it also accurately reflects the mounting partisan, anti-science, anti-reality stance of certain groups that threaten to send the United States back into the Dark Ages. So just in time for Halloween, this should scare you:

Science Policy, Not Partisan Politics

27 Oct

This is Part II of a guest post by Josh Witten.

A few ideas of dubious merit, assuming that you are not cool with science policy continuing to be enslaved to partisan politics:

Independents acting like independents
Although 81% of scientists lean Democrat, 32% of scientists actually identify as independents. If these independents act like independents who prioritize science policy above all, rather than Democrats who forgot to check the party affiliation box on their voter registration[4], that would give Republican candidates the opportunity to compete for almost half the votes of scientists.

Embrace diversity
The survey results indicate that the scientific community has not yet achieved political homogeneity, but it acts like it has. I spent graduate school watching talented researchers embed juvenile jokes about George W. Bush’s intelligence into their presentations. I sat in on numerous conversations in which my colleagues bemoaned the obvious evil and imbecility of anyone who voted Republican. Unsurprisingly, this silences voices that do not agree with the majority. I have known graduate students that lean conservative who fear that having their views exposed would damage their careers – not for being conservative, but for being perceived as an idiot, which is apparently required for voting Republican. Sadly, these silent voices are the ones that would advertise to Republican candidates that there are pro-science votes for which they can compete.

Get over their “wrongness”
It is tempting to point out how “wrong” the Republican rhetoric is on many science issues. This would imply that the onus is on these Republican politicians to improve their thinking and move their positions toward those with scientific support. Fine in theory, but these are human beings. We are going to have to appeal to them. Yes, I know they are wrong. Get over it.

Label changes
Abandon partisan labels. Using generalizations, like Republican anti-science (as above, below, and throughout), seem like handy shortcuts, but exacerbate the “us” and “them” mentality. It forces ownership of general trends within a party on all members, like a stereotype. It also avoids directly criticizing the people making spouting the rhetoric.

Embrace the public
Turns out scientists are more popular than politicians. Remember 84% of the public think science has a mostly positive effect on society. An astounding 70% say that scientists contribute a lot to the well being of society. We should use that. We need to embrace the entire public as advocates for science and focus energy on generating public enthusiasm for candidates based on their science policy, not political party[5].

While it is important to understand why people hold the views they do and how the current partisan situation around science policy came to be, it is more important to find ways to recover from this situation. Equally, it is important that we do not ask anyone to compromise their views on science issues to pander to candidates. Here, I prefer to argue that we should make science more important than ever. More important than our political affiliations and certainly more important than the cheap thrill of feeling superior to another group.

When we face the reality that politicians face more significant pressure to appeal to voters that might actually vote for them than the do to be effective leaders, we are also presented with options to save science from partisanship; but will we take those opportunities?

4. Yes, I am aware that there are many non-partisan, science advocacy organizations that already exist. There is, however, an important distinction between nominally non-partisan groups and actually non-partisan voters. We need to demonstrate that the latter actually exist in the science community.

5. ScienceDebate is trying to do this. Their treatment in 2008 clearly indicates that candidates from both parties did not see the value in competing for the votes of the pro-science voters.

Josh Witten practices science as a Career Development Fellow at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK studying the regulation of splicing of mRNAs by protein-RNA interactions and writes about science at The Finch & Pea. He earned a PhD in Molecular Cell Biology at Washington University in St. Louis studying genetics in yeast and humans. In a previous life, Josh has spent time as a high level rugby player, hat model, whale rider, and magician’s assistant.