ScienceDebate announced today that the campaigns of both Presidential candidates have answered the 14 questions asked by the organization. Regular readers may remember I don’t think much of this effort, in part because I don’t think much of presidential debates. But the answers are out, and that should be acknowledged.
But, contrary to the organization’s assertion that “every cycle we’re making progress,” they achieved this little four years ago. The two campaigns answered their questions and continued to ignore the ScienceDebate pleas to participate in a forum or debate on the topic. As the ScienceDebate press release states:
To date, neither candidate has accepted the group’s invitation to a presidential forum on these important questions. “They’re stuck in 20th century thinking,” said Otto. “It’s taking them time to realize we’re in a new century – the century of science – and that 85% of likely voters want them to be debating these topics. Every cycle we’re making progress.”
The apparent failure to get responses from more than two of over 30 Members of Congress that were asked to submit answers suggests that the only progress the organization is making is in increasing the number of people that fail to respond to their requests. Organizer Shawn Otto’s continued disbelief at this lack of response comes across as either naïve or disingenuous. Neither possibility speaks well of him or of ScienceDebate.
As I suggested when ScienceDebate attempted to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear they got in 2008, it really is this aspect of the science advocacy community that is stuck in 20th century thinking. They want policymaker attention, but they are stuck on a single means of achieving it – a debate. And there’s no way to know that a debate wouldn’t be spoken versions of the campaign boilerplate submitted in response to the questionnaires, responses which even have a ScienceDebate steering committee member less than thrilled. (You know what I think the answer will be, but I could be wrong.)
If ScienceDebate wants a debate – they’re welcome to keep trying. But if they’re seeking influence and relevance, I think the emphasis on a debate is doing them no favors. While the efforts to develop Franklin’s List (or Albert’s List), a science and technology political action committee, have stalled, there’s a lot of potential. I heartily suggest that getting politically engaged in a meaningful way that lasts longer than a few months during each Presidential campaign is a better strategy than asking for donations so you can beg candidates to fill out a questionnaire. If they want to look at other countries, check out Science is Vital or the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the U.K. They could also chat with the folks behind the Canadian Science Policy Conference, who aren’t necessarily organized for similar purposes, but likely know those in Canada who are.
Bring money, bring votes. If you can’t or won’t do either, elected officials won’t give you much more than a courtesy glance. ScienceDebate’s meager results should surprise nobody who follows campaigns.