U.S. Platform Planks For Science – Plenty To See, Assuming Platforms Matter

By now the 2012 platforms for both the Republican and Democratic parties are approved and available for reading.  ScienceInsider has offered its opinions on both platforms (Republican analysis, Democratic analysis).

The ScienceInsider reviews provide useful political context for each platform, and I think the assessment of the differences between the 2008 and 2012 Democratic platforms is instructive.  Two items worth keeping at front of mind:

Platforms are not necessarily reflections of the party’s candidates positions.  The clearest example of this for 2012 is the differences between the Republican Party platform on abortion and Governor Romney’s stated differences with that platform (this segment from The Daily Show captures this pretty well).

There is no distinct section on science and technology.  While it may be an issue for some, those outside the field engage with science and technology more as part of other policy areas than on its own terms.  This resonates with a common theme on this blog, that the bigger challenge to science and technology concerns in policy is the priority decision makers place on it rather than the partisan background of those decision makers.

To figure out where the parties stand on science and technology issues, look for the policy areas where you might find applications of science and technology.  Energy, education, transportation, food security, international development and the internet are all areas in which one can surmise how each prospective administration would use science and technology to accomplish their desired policy outcomes.  It doesn’t give a complete picture, but I don’t think the platforms really do that for any particular area of policy.

What might drive some (okay, Chris Mooney) nutty would be this call in the Republican platform (page 25 in the document, but numbered page 18), boldface mine:

“Moreover, the advance of science and technology advances environmentalism as well.  Science allows us to weigh the costs and benefits of a policy so that we can prudently deal with our resources.  This is especially important when the causes and long-range effects of a phenomenon are uncertain.  We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from federally funded research.”

The platform is silent on the specifics of the problem or the possible solutions the party seeks to implement.  However, the preceding paragraphs discuss how the party considers people the most valuable resource but seeks policies to balance economic development and private property interests with conservation goals.  That’s a legitimate, value-based perspective that informs the party’s thoughts on scientific integrity.  But I don’t expect this attempt to improve scientific integrity to be any more successful than the various half measures and failures of the current administration’s efforts to implement scientific integrity principles.

If you’re still reading this far, bless you.  The platforms are a melange of competing, if similar interests.  Part campaign document, part statement of principles, part (smallish one, but still) policy statement, these platforms lack the detail of their U.K. cousins, but that could be as much a difference of how the parties in each country operate (major parties in the U.K. develop their ‘platforms’ on an annual basis).  Above all, the documents are aspirational.  They express what the parties want to do, or what to have happen.  The correlation with actual events is hard to find.


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