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Are we losing what made America great?
A Debate on Science and America’s Future

"Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for public debates in which the U.S. presidential and congressional candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy."

AAAS 2012 Elections Site

Selected quotes from our signers

We asked our signers "Why should anyone care about presidential or congressional debates on science and technology?" Here's what some of them said:


Science and engineering have driven half the nation’s growth in GDP over the last half-century, and lie at the center of many of the major policy and economic challenges the next president will face. We feel that a presidential debate on science would be helpful to America’s national political dialogue.

Alan Leshner, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)



The founding of our republic involved prominent American scientists – Thomas Jefferson (agricultural experimentalist and architect), Benjamin Franklin (electrical experimentalist and inventor), and Benjamin Rush (physician). Sadly we are now faced with elected officials almost entirely from business and law practices without any background in science. Their proficiencies vary – some are reasonably well advised on scientific matters and others would seemingly request that Scopes undergo a retrial. I strongly feel that the American public would benefit from an objective debate in which candidates for our highest office provide specific answers to important scientific problems facing our nation. We deserve nothing less.

Peter Agre, Vice Chancellor for science and technology at Duke University Medical Center, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2003



The success of the United States has been based largely on the economic and other positive impacts of science and technology. While generally not an immediate issue to many Americans, it is undoubtedly one of the most important long-range issues facing the future of this country—including economic, environmental, and military security. It is therefore important to know how every potential President of the United States thinks about science and technology. Let’s hear what their views are!

Richard Anthes, President, American Meteorological Society; President, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research



There are at least three good reasons for a Presidential Science debate. One is to contrast the opinions of the leading candidates. However, most of them are very likely to agree more than disagree. The second is to highlight the importance of science to America. Science is important in a number of ways: as the fundament of American economic competitiveness, as the hope for providing safe sources of energy, as the engine for improving human health, as a part of our cultural development and as the framework for teaching the next generation of scientists and technologists, to mention a few. The third reason is to force the candidates to think about the importance of S&T so that when one becomes President he or she won’t find the suggestion so foreign.

David Baltimore, Past President, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Robert A. Millikan Professor of Biology and Past President, Caltech; Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1975




The future economic success of the United States depends on out-performing the competition with smart people and smart ideas.  Without the best education system and investments in basic research and development we will become a second rate economic power. 

Craig Barrett, Former Chairman, Intel




Since the future of this nation both in terms of national and economic security depends upon America’s competency in science and technology it is absolutely crucial that those seeking the Presidency make their views known about science policy, the implications of recent findings in science for social, health and security issues and their plans to promote America’s capabilities in science and technology in the future. The American people are well aware of the importance of these questions. They absolutely merit a focused discussion in a national forum.

Arthur Caplan, Director, Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania and Chair, Department of Medical Ethics, U-Penn School of Medicine



From global warming and energy independence to developing vaccines to emerging diseases, scientific issues will be critically important to the continued vitality of our nation and the health of our people. We cannot afford to elect the next president without having a clear understanding of his or her grasp of the scientific issues confronting society and of the policies he or she would implement in response to new scientific information.

William Chameides, Dean, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University



The science debate has grown significantly in importance since the passage of the omnibus budget bill in late December. This bill grossly underfunded science for FY08. Dramatic increases in the science budgets of the DOE Office of Science, NSF, and NIST are urgent to revitalize the science enterprise in the US, which is no longer capable of competing with outstanding science programs in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Europe. The best and brightest of these countries no longer come to the US for education and science careers; they now find equal or better opportunities at home and devote their careers to building their own national science infrastructures. The US is falling behind at an alarming rate, as documented, for example, in the National Academy study Rising Above the Gathering Storm. Instead of revitalizing the US science enterprise, Congress has cut the budgets of the science agencies for the second year in a row, further damaging our already severely weakened scientific and technological position. American leadership in science and technology is crucial for the future prosperity and security of the US and the world. The dismal record of Congress in supporting science must be widely circulated, and the Presidential candidates must publicly state their programs for restoring vitality and leadership to US science.

George Crabtree, Director, Materials Science & Senior Scientist, Argonne National Laboratory



We fully support this effort. Innovation is critical to our nation's continued economic prosperity and it is essential that we continue to invest in science and engineering and in the universities that spawn new ideas leading to economic growth. 

William Dester, President, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)



The security of our nation and our continued prosperity and economic competitiveness depend crucially on science and technology. And in an era where a major epidemic is a mere airplane ride away, the health of our people depends on continued advances in medicine and epidemiology. A U.S. President who is not sufficiently knowledgable about scientific and technological issues to properly weigh the advice she or he receives from the experts will, sooner or later, fail the nation. And I mean “will”. We can and must do better.

Keith Devlin, Executive Director, Center for the Study of Language and Information, and Consulting Professor of Mathematics, Stanford University; commentator “The Math Guy” on NPR; author of 25 books; Chair-elect of the Mathematics Section of the AAAS



We are selecting a leader for a society dependent on science and technology and we have yet to show the slightest bit of curiosity regarding their views on any matters in either field. We have seen what seven years of negligence and disdain for science has done to American pre-eminence.  This debate is not a science test meant to trip up the candidates—but a means for the electorate to make an informed decision regarding the candidate’s judgement and capacity to lead us in the 21st century.

Ann Druyan, CEO, Cosmos Studios; cowriter, Cosmos TV series (with Carl Sagan and others); producer, Contact



It is astounding that for all the talk of the future and the bromides about “change” the presidential election has not so far focussed on the agents of technological change on which America’s economic future depends.

Harold Evans, Author They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine, Two Hundred Years of Innovators and of The American Century; BBC Columnist, editor at large, The Week



The question that any sensible person should ask is: How could it be possible that the presidential candidates would not debate issues related to science and technology? No one doubts that science and technology play a critical role in sustaining the nation’s economic vigor, improving education for all citizens, addressing the global environmental stress caused by growing population and increased industrialization, developing cures for debilitating diseases, and contributing to our overall quality of life. Besides, both parties agree on many of the fundamental issues concerning science. Wouldn’t it be good for voters to see that there is a potential for extensive bipartisan cooperation in many areas in addition to some real differences on a few important questions? Isn’t that how we like to think of our democracy working? I think it would be a refreshing breeze in a political climate in which bitter disagreements over relatively minor issues seem to dominate the discussion.

Kevin Finneran, Editor-in-Chief, Issues in Science and Technology




As I’ve said time and again, we have to recognize there are roughly seven billion people in the world, half of whom make less than $2 a day. We cannot and would not want to compete with that. We have to compete at a higher level with a better equipped and skilled workforce than that of our global counterparts – and we do that by focusing on science, education and innovation.  I’m confident that the same enthusiasm and coordinated effort that led to the passage of the America COMPETES Act will bring this debate to fruition.  As Former Chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee and the father of a 10-year old daughter, I understand we cannot allow our children to become the first American generation to inherit a lower standard of living than their parents. Ensuring our kids have the best education and jobs available to them is a challenge all of us must undertake.

Bart Gordon, Congressman, D, 6th District, Tennessee; Fmr Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology




Science and technology are an essential part of the modern world—they create the intellectual basis and practice for a flourishing, competitive economy such as we hope the US one to be. And they allow us to understand competing, varying views of the crises facing the world, such as global warming and overpopulation. It is important that the future President of the US address the ways in which scientific advise and counsel can be used. One wants not only criticism of what went before, but a policy and detailed look at what can be done.

Roald Hoffman, Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Cornell University; Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1981




The economy, national security, and health care have been the primary focus of the debates to date, but many of the solutions to those challenges are rooted in science, technology, and innovation. Ask yourself if your life and/or livelihood will be affected by the policies, programs, and tone of the next President on issues of science, technology, and innovation.  If the answer is "yes," – and it should be – I invite you to join in this effort to have a focused discussion on these critical issues.  Energy policy is a perfect example. Global energy security is the greatest challenge of our time, inextricably interlinked with our economic and national security. The exponential demand for energy worldwide -- and the link to climate change -- presents extraordinary geopolitical challenges and offers extraordinary economic opportunities, yet the United States does not have a comprehensive energy roadmap. It is essential to understand what the next President will do to put us on the pathway to global energy security and sustainability, yet there has been a surprisingly limited discussion on these issues. Energy security is the 'space race' of this millennium. Swift and bold action will be required of the next President if we are to sustain our national capacity for innovation to meet our energy needs. As we witnessed in the 1960s in response to the launch of Sputnik, this nation has a tremendous capacity to rise to great challenges. But it will require strong national leadership to spark a new generation of innovation.

Shirley Ann Jackson, President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission 1995-1999 



The Science Debate initiative is an essential step to ensuring that our country’s next leader is paying attention to research and development, innovation and STEM education. Our future success as a nation depends on our public commitment to science and technology leadership.

Steve Kelley, Director, Center for Science, Technology and Policy, University of Minnesota



We need to know whether the next President we elect will have respect for experimental science, curiosity about the workings of the natural world, and a determination to listen to expert judgments about science and technology policy. A debate among the leading contenders should help sketch policies and priorities with respect to stem cells and other aspects of biomedical research, climate change, exploration of space and the world’s oceans, energy and the control of greenhouse gas emissions, and the conservation of biological diversity. It is inconceivable that America’s voters could be condemned to ignorance about these important dimensions of our next leader.

Don Kennedy, Former Editor-in-Chief, Science



Several recent reports from the National Academies, notably “The Gathering Storm” and “Beyond Bias and Barriers”, have highlighted the increasing dangers facing U.S. science. Our national science efforts are perceived as less and less relevant to America’s youth, and careers in science, technology and engineering are not attracting our most talented. This is particularly true among young men; the number of engineering doctorates awarded to men who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents has dropped 37%, chemistry doctorates have dropped 25%, and physics doctorates 40%. An increase in women earning doctorates has helped to sustain the pool of trained U.S. scientists. However, the U.S. needs new strategies to ensure that we do not exclude persons who are skilled in science from participation in this important enterprise because of cultural biases and institutional rigidity. For example, careers in science and engineering are still designed for men with at-home wives who do not need flexible work schedules, subsidized child care or paid maternity leaves. What will our next President do to reverse these trends?

  Phoebe Leboy, President, Association for Women in Science



The challenges facing our nation and the world are increasingly intertwined with science and technology. Almost every major public policy issue from job creation and our standard of living to health, energy, and our environment, has an S&T component. Yet our political leaders and our population as a whole are often misinformed or unaware of these connections. The Science Debate initiative is critical because it provides an opportunity to put these issues into the public spotlight and ensures a more informed electorate. By making S&T issues a political priority, it also helps pave the way for consideration of how S&T can be best employed to advance our national policy priorities.

Russell Lefevre, Past President, IEEE-USA



Now more than ever it is imperative that the clear voice of science comes through the sometimes confounding public discourse. Science informs the decisions of all Americans, on issues as overwhelming as climate change and as everyday as grocery shopping. Presidential elections offer the opportunity to learn how science frames the decisionmaking of our next national leader. We owe ourselves no less than to engage our candidates in conversation about science in the national interest. 

Elizabeth Marincola, President, Society for Science & the Public; Publisher, Science News



If we are going to successfully tackle the problem of energy - broadly defined as providing sufficient energy to support higher standards of living for a growing fraction of the world's population without creating intractable conflict over resources or irreparable harm to our environment, then substantial advances in the state of the art in energy generation, distribution, and end use are required.  It seems clear that the linked problems of energy, environment, prosperity, and national security are part of the political debate. It is less clear whether there is an understanding that while it is desirable to make full use of the best available technologies this by itself falls far short of what is needed.  Without a significant and sustained effort in longer term research and development we will not have solutions that lead us to a desirable future.  We need to hear the extent to which the candidates understand that solving the energy problem is a science problem of the first order.

Thomas Mason, Director, Oak Ridge National Laboratory



Our most striking challenge, declining competitiveness, has not yet been widely recognized by the general public, but it is frightening indeed. A number of reports in the past several years have raised serious concern about America’s ability to compete with the rest of the world going forward, particularly in science and technology. Sadly,  as with the issue of greenhouse gases, this problem will get worse before it gets better. If we begin today, it will take us nearly a generation to develop the needed scientists, engineers and mathematicians. The children currently in U.S. schools are performing badly when measured against children in other industrialized nations, so our pipeline has slowed to a trickle. Children in elementary school must first catch the excitement of science and mathematics, and by middle school, be ready to do well in algebra, in order to be on track to take more advanced mathematics and science courses in high school. It is essential that this issue is high on the agenda of the next president.

Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, President, Sweet Briar College



Now, more than ever, it is important that the American people have an honest and straightforward understanding of where the Presidential candidates stand on the issues of science and technology that face us. We know that there is a vocal community of Americans who, for religious reasons, feel that they must reject some central principles of science, including evolution, plate tectonics, and the vast age of the Earth and Universe, and do not want these subjects funded or taught in schools. Some candidates pander to these factions, and some may even agree with them. But these views affect the scientific literacy of all Americans and our future competitiveness in research and development. We have a right to know whether our next President thinks that global warming is a hoax, that stem cell research is immoral, and that there is no reason to preserve the environment because it will all be destroyed when the Rapture gathers up the Faithful in a few short years. For these reasons, we need a Presidential debate on science and technology.

Kevin Padian, Professor and Curator, Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology University of California, Berkeley



A debate on science will allow Presidential candidates to focus on positive steps to improve the United States and the world, rather than dwelling on fear and aggression – subjects too much in the political dialogue these days. Investment in science pays back huge dividends for our country, in terms of developing new understanding of our world and ways to live in harmony with our environment. In my field of climate change, technology has inadvertently produced the problem as a byproduct of trying to light and heat our homes, drive to work, grow, refrigerate, and cook our food, and live our lives. However, science offers a way to continue to live a comfortable life, while allowing us to develop products the rest of the world will need to improve their lives. Addressing the problem through science is an economic opportunity, even if it means changes from the way we do things now. We need a debate to see which candidate can provide real leadership, taking advantage of what science can provide to our country, embracing the results and using them to improve our lives.

Alan Robock, Meteorology Professor, Rutgers University; Nobel Peace Prize 2007 (as member of IPCC)



One cannot be a fully engaged citizen in this or any other democratic society without having at least a basic familiarity with the scientific thinking related to such subjects as global climate change, community health, and technology. It follows that those who seek the privilege of leadership within such societies should be prepared to discuss their own familiarity with and views on the scientific thinking in these areas. Our candidates for president should seek opportunities to do so clearly, publicly, and in detail.

Brian Rosenberg, President, Macalester College



The United States has long been the driving force behind many of today’s greatest scientific and technological discoveries and innovations. Our advances in medicine and engineering have ensured that we have one of the highest standards of living across the globe. But, more and more, our dominance in the marketplace has been undermined by our inability and unwillingness to fund education, research and development at competitive levels with other countries.  America’s leaders already have the authority and the resources needed to stimulate and sustain a fertile scientific environment. Now they must demonstrate the willpower to lead, the open mindedness to inspire, and the generous spirit to support the advancement of cutting- edge knowledge for future generations of Americans and the world. 

Donna Shalala, President, University of Miami; former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services



Has anyone heard any of the candidates talk about the America Competes Act passed by Congress and signed by the president last year? That Act responded to the 2007 NAS report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” particularly as it relates to improving the teaching and learning of science and math in the nation’s schools. But in spite of great need, these programs are still unfunded. A debate should tell us how each candidate proposes to assure that America Competes becomes a reality.

Maxine Singer, President Emerita, Carnegie Institution of Washington; National Medal of Science, 1992; Public Welfare Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, 2007



It is critical for the future competitiveness of our nation that our leaders understand the importance of science and technology policy. And the voters cannot fully assess the candidates without this discussion.

Barbara Snyder, President, Case Western Reserve University




According to the national media, the environment is one of the most important issues in the ongoing presidential campaigns. Upon further reading, it quickly becomes evident that a major stimulus for candidates’ (and elected officials’) interest in the environment is the global climate change issue. But our national need for strong and comprehensive science policy goes much further. In addition to the ongoing debate about the health, earth, and space sciences, we need to think and plan for study of the natural sciences, biodiversity, and sustainability. In the current, ongoing presidential campaign, I have to ask: “What would a comprehensive platform for science that includes the natural sciences and sustainability look like?”

James Tate, Jr. Former Science Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior