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Call for a Presidential Debate on Science 610

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the platitudes-and-geralizations-wont-cut-it dept.
Writer Matthew Chapman recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post calling for a science-only Presidential debate. While I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the candidates to embrace such a potentially difficult series of questions, a bit more emphasis on modern science and technology certainly couldn't hurt. "None of the candidates should know in advance what questions they might face. Not knowing the questions in advance would force them to study as much science as possible, and this in itself would be a marvelous thing. However, a statement would be read at the start stating that no one expects politicians to understand every aspect of the many scientific disciplines. The debate's tone would try not to be adversarial, but cordial and educational. It could even be fun."
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Call for a Presidential Debate on Science

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  • by Besna (1175279) * on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:12PM (#21158547)
    What sort of physical conditions (pressure, temperature) would have to exist to produce carbon from a mix of hydrogen and oxygen? ;)
    • by paranode (671698) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:16PM (#21158591)
      All you need is Jesus.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Rel. Right:
        Evolution is wrong, only God can create carbon.

        Old Right:
        I believe the government has no right to make carbon, and it should be left to corporate ventures to do so more efficiently.

        Neo Right:
        I believe that the carbon is a threat to society and we should stop it by declaring war on [country unrelated to carbon]

        Touchy-feely Left:
        If they don't want to be carbon, they shouldn't be forced to change.

        Old Left:
        I'll form a government program to convert all hydrogen and oxygen into carbon [funding it by in
        • by An dochasac (591582) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @08:56AM (#21169255)
          Well, Since Hydrogen has but one newtron, Oxygen has 8 and Carbon has 6, you could do it a number of ways with a cyclotron:

          Since D/R is fiscally (ir)responsible duopoly of parties, first the R's will spend $2 Billion of taxpayer money building of a SuperConducting Supercollider in Texas to help offset the economic ruin caused by a oil and housing bust, then D will promptly cancel it when it is 90% complete. Then D will occasionally send money to Switzerland to collaborate on their SuperCollider. R will try to destroy funding for that off chance the Swiss come up with fusion or something else that could ruin revenue for R's friends in the oil industry. Once the collider is more than 200% funded (i.e. ~ 50% built), you should have enough science or magnets or whatever it takes to smack a Hydrogen into the Oxygens at energy sufficient to occasionally cause a Helium 2 to fall off, leaving a few Carbon 6 atoms and a hell of a lot of radioactive waste which you send to Nevada and bury for a couple of million years.

          Next question????
    • by ArcherB (796902) *
      What sort of physical conditions (pressure, temperature) would have to exist to produce carbon from a mix of hydrogen and oxygen? ;)

      While I don't have the exact figures memorized, it would be similar to the temps and pressure required to create gold from helium (a few steps omitted, of course, but those are dwarfed by the whole idea).

    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:25PM (#21158729) Homepage Journal
      Under my administration, everybody, even poor people, will have access to FREE carbon! I mean, with the limited carbon availble, someone has to think of the children! It takes a village to produce carbon from hydrogen and oxygen, and I'll do my part to ensure that we all pitch in!

      *whisper*

      What? You can't produce carbon from hydgrogen and oxygen?

      Well, I'm not anything if tough on crime! We'll make sure that anybody caught putting hydrogen and oxygen together to make carbon will get the justice they deserve!

    • by Surt (22457) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:39PM (#21158923) Homepage Journal
      Temperature: something in the range of 4000 kelvin
      Pressure: something in the neighborhood of 40 PPa

      Of course, you can trade one against the other to some extent, I don't have the formula handy.
    • Re:Here's an idea (Score:5, Informative)

      by Convector (897502) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:52PM (#21159105)
      A temperature of around 10^8 K should suffice, such that the hydrogen not only fuses into helium, but the triple-alpha process becomes efficient, fusing helium into carbon. The oxygen is largely irrelevant, unless T approaches ~10^9 K, when the C-N-O cycle can happen. The pressures are not so important as the relative abundance of He to H which determines whether triple-alpha takes place. Stars much smaller than the Sun are unlikely to undergo He burning, so a pressure of at least 10^15 dyne cm^-2 is recommended. Vote Robot Nixon!
    • by BigBuckHunter (722855) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @02:02AM (#21167321)
      Take it further with an evening gown and swimsuit "competition".

      BBH
  • It'll never happen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshJ (1009085) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:15PM (#21158571) Journal
    It'll never happen as long as the religious anti-any-science-that-my-holy-book-says-is-wrong crowd continues to hold any real weight in American politics.
    • Correction: it will never happen so long as we have career politicians who not only have no science training to speak of, but have no incentive to learn anything about anything that does not directly relate to the 3-4 hot topics amongst their constituents. Furthermore, should one of those hot topics be a science-based issue, they need do no more than learn a few keywords to rile up the masses.
      • by ArcherB (796902) *
        Correction: it will never happen so long as we have career politicians who not only have no science training to speak of, but have no incentive to learn anything about anything that does not directly relate to the 3-4 hot topics amongst their constituents. Furthermore, should one of those hot topics be a science-based issue, they need do no more than learn a few keywords to rile up the masses.

        If what you say is true, and it is, then the problem is not with the politicians, but the constituents. You can't b
    • Catch-22 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Peter Trepan (572016) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:56PM (#21159155)

      It'll never happen as long as the religious anti-any-science-that-my-holy-book-says-is-wrong crowd continues to hold any real weight in American politics.

      And without that segment, what would there be to debate?

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:15PM (#21158575) Homepage
    I would not want Albert Einstein as President.

    There are some things you SHOULD delegate.

    Science is either settled or debated.

    Settled science is just memorization. Debated science is pretty much already publicized.

    What I would like is for someone to say "The White House will no longer rewrite scientific reports made by agencies. If we believe something should not be 'promoted', we will move it to an appendix instead of removing it entirely."

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I wouldn't want Einstein as President, but I wouldn't want George W. Bush as President either.

      No one should require their President to be a scientific genius, but the ability to deal intelligently with matters of science is actually quite important.
    • by nuzak (959558) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:24PM (#21158707) Journal
      > What I would like is for someone to say "The White House will no longer rewrite scientific reports made by agencies."

      What I would like is for someone to say "The White House no longer has the power or authority to rewrite scientific reports made by agencies." With all due respect, I don't want to take their fucking word for it.
      • by Elemenope (905108)

        Problem is, since many of these agencies are under executive branch control, they do have the power to redact these reports. Obviously, they shouldn't use that power as they have been (and I don't want to "take their fucking word for it" either), but for them to claim that they don't have it would be just factually wrong.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mrpeebles (853978)
      My understanding is that Einstein was actually offered the presidency of Israel. http://judaism.about.com/od/jewishleaders/a/aeinstein.htm [about.com]
    • Science IS politics (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowskyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:31PM (#21158819) Homepage Journal
      What I would like is for someone to say "The White House will no longer rewrite scientific reports made by agencies. If we believe something should not be 'promoted', we will move it to an appendix instead of removing it entirely."

      That's crazy talk. The only thing about science that is apolitical is a repeatable result of a given experimental condition. Everything else, from conclusions, interpretations, recommended course of action is political, and can certainly be edited by the White House, no matter who is elected.

      What, do you think scientists don't lie?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kisak (524062)

        What, do you think scientists don't lie?

        What does lying have to do with it?! If the review process is allowed to do its job and the competitive instinct between scientists are kept alive, lies are discovered. Of course, the conclusions drawn from findings in science is an human enterprise, but there are strict standards what are considered strong conclusions, standards developed over the last centuries of scientific discovery. The relativism from the USAian right about some of the main conclusions drawn f

    • by Animats (122034) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:34PM (#21158849) Homepage

      What's needed is a rule like the one the US Army has: If your superior rewrites your report, you have the right to attach a copy of the original when the report goes up to a higher command. This discourages internal coverups.

      (External coverups are another matter, but the Army tries reasonably hard to insure that bad news makes it to higher commanders. Historically, when it doesn't, battles are lost.)

  • Fair and Balanced (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ruprecht the Monkeyb (680597) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:15PM (#21158583)
    That'd be cool with me. Let's make the reporters asking do the same. They're just as culpable for the shallow and sensationalist charades that that compose the election cycle. Actually, more so, since they hold themselves up as the self-appointed watchdogs.
  • Host (Score:5, Funny)

    by T Murphy (1054674) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:16PM (#21158595) Journal
    It should be hosted by Bill Nye.
  • by Speare (84249) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:16PM (#21158601) Homepage Journal

    The debate's tone would try not to be adversarial, but cordial and educational.

    Not sure if this was meant as a joke, but Brownback of Kansas has already dropped out. There goes about half of your fun factor. The rest of the Republicans will hem and haw around the edges of the Creationism issue like a complex number approaching the Mandelbrot set, but Brownback came from the state so bold they redefined pi. The Democrats will try (and fail) to evoke Kennedy's passion for a moon launch while simultaneously explaining how scientifically advanced the latest V-Chip self-censoring technologies are getting.

    • Brownback came from the state so bold they redefined pi.

      Um...no. Brownback is from Kansas, and the fictional urban legend is about Alabama [snopes.com]

  • Can't happen... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:17PM (#21158611) Journal
    The debate's tone would try not to be adversarial, but cordial and educational. It could even be fun.

    You get the candidates you deserve. The voters and the media have made it impossible for candidates for major office (who are almost by definition smart, personable people) to do anything but recite polished talking points.

    C'mon, do you think if any candidate stumbled on the tiniest fact, or said something that could be taken out of context to sound silly, the loudmouths here would ever let it slide? Go ask poor Ted Stevens about why it's 1337 to refer to Internet connections as "pipes" but you're a retard if you say "tubes"...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I can't speak for anyone but me, but if Stevens had simply referred to "tubes", I would have let it slide. Referring to "tubes" is simply a shorthand to the whole dumbassed speech, which included him "getting an internet from an aide". An "internet" that didn't reach him for days, because the "tubes were clogged up".
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:17PM (#21158615)
    Let's weed out the dead wood.

    "How old is the Earth? How old is the Universe? Answer both questions with a number."

    Jesus freaks can vote for the guy who says "6,000 years".

    Scientists can vote for the guy who says "4.5 billion years, 13.7 billion years, respectively, give or take a few hundred million"

    And both the Jesus freaks and the scientists can agree on one thing: that any candidate who answers "they're both the same age, 4.5 billion years", or "both the same age, 13.7 billion years", or who splutters out something on the order of "millions" of years was so ignorant as to be wrong by at least three orders of magnitude.

  • by hey0you0guy (1003040) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:18PM (#21158619)
    Announcer: Mr President, with all of the issues about clean energy and rising oil prices, Americans are turning to alternate sources of energy. What are your thoughts on nuclear power? President: Its pronounced nuke-u-lar.
  • Do we know if there's actually much correlation between positions that candidates espouse while running, and how they act when in office?

    (I mean beyond what we can already know broadly based on their voting records and on their party affiliation.)
  • by ivan256 (17499) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:18PM (#21158631)
    Think of this from a politician's perspective. This type of debate could really hurt them if they answer poorly, but it probably wouldn't help them at all with the vast majority of the population if they did well. So why would they agree to participate?

    There are all sorts of great ideas for debates (including an actual debate instead of the charade debates we have now), that will never happen for the same reason. People, and the media, aren't willing to hold candidates accountable for refusing to hold a real debate, so it doesn't happen.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I never got why Presidental Candidates were given the *choice* to participates in debates. If they are running to hold an office, why aren't the obligated to answer a set of questions regarding their ideas?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ivan256 (17499)
        The candidates are only accountable to the voters beyond the very minimal rules specified in the constitution.

        Why aren't they obligated to answer a set of questions? Simple; it's because people are willing to vote for them without them answering a set of questions. Worse, the media will punish them for answering some questions by picking the worst bits and playing them on a 24 hour loop. We actually reward our candidates for shutting up about all but the most divisive (based on belief, not fact) or irreleva
    • Well, mostly because it's a wonderful chance to play The Polarization Game where they could peg the other side as idiots / heathens.
      • by ivan256 (17499)
        So as a candidate, which would you rather be labeled as: an idiot, or a heathen? Keep in mind that the country is divided almost 50/50, and to get elected you need at least a few people from the other side to vote for you. Where's the positive label that could come out of this?
    • Yea, I thought this would be an amazing concept when I first read the article but thinking about it more and more realized that there would be no real incentive for the politicians to compete. Like you said, they gain nothing and can lose everything. It would be interesting to see their views on science, their thoughts on what we should study and strive towards, etc but again, most of America doesn't care at all.

      Since no one cares and the politicians won't throw their careers up to any real debate, I pro
    • by davidsyes (765062)
      In the case of the current sitting occupant of the oval office, he'd be fitted with an ear but, and there'd be a time delay, as is invisible prompt would cue him the answers.

      (An aside: In any case, the Obama and Clinton should run together, irrespective of to WHOM the P/VP seat goes. They should just say, "we'll trade seats half-way into the term, and if we win re-election we'll alternate, again."

      Hell, for that matter (since the goddamn corrupt parties ONLY want D/R alternations, the P/VP should be one D, o
  • by RobBebop (947356) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:20PM (#21158655) Homepage Journal

    Sure, it is nice to know a President's stance on Stem Cell Research and the accelerating rate at which National Science Foundation budgets are being cut...

    But equally important would be having a president who understands basic internet technology and whether they have intelligent opinions regarding the regulation thereof. It seems like there are a shortage of ladies and gentlemen in Washington who understand the latest technology. This would be helpful in Congress, too... because the aging Senators don't seem to be able to keep up with the time and young "with it" 20-30 year old candidates would help with adding much needed diversity in that branch of government.

    • Having a President, and a press corps, who had basic knowledge of Economics would be a good start. And elementary arithmatic. 1 + 1 + 1 is greater than 2, yet the voices that publically called Bush on his tax cut plan in 2000 were strangely mute. Now America owes about a trillion dollars more than we would have otherwise.
  • What's the point? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RingDev (879105) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:21PM (#21158663) Homepage Journal
    This has all the makings of a bad idea.

    If done straight up in a science only, non-political debate, it would be an hour of 'uhh, I don't know's. With only a touch of bias it would quickly turn into a series of loaded questions (Science X will destroy the world and kill babies, do you support Science X?). At best you'll get the candidates up the talking about the importance of science, technology and invention in the US and how they'll pledge to fund it. Which is great and all, but they'll all just sit there agreeing that science is good and should get funded.

    So what's the point?

    If you give them a list of topics in advance, and change the questions to a political nature, ie: Topic X, how do you feel X is going to effect the environment, and with that concern how do you intend to minimize/maximize it's effect on the economy and working class?

    THAT would be a bunch of questions worth listening to answers from a would-be president.

    Unfortunately, it would take a huge amount of the candidate's time to stage such an event, and to be honest, they'll get more votes shaking hands and giving passionate speeches on the steps of some historic land mark while preaching to the choir about security, war, and money.

    -Rick
  • Not the lack of scientific knowledge, but the naivety of the proposer:

    Not knowing the questions in advance would force them to study as much science as possible
    No it wouldn't (they have neither the time nor the inclination). All it means is they would answer "I don't know".
    However, much more likely is that they would not take part as it would make them look like idiots if they couldn't answer a question.

    Why not make it international and rename it: "Is your president smarter than a 10 year-old?"

    • Why not make it international and rename it: "Is your president smarter than a 10 year-old?"
      Because we've got enough of a stigma in the international community already, without making it explicit?
  • Oh come on! (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by PHAEDRU5 (213667)
    On the Republican side the first, and I mean *first* question would be about "Intelligent Design". The next would be about stem cell research. Things would go downhill from there. And the answers would be gone over with a fine tooth comb for items to ridicule, inspire outrage, or generate fear of the Impending Christofascist Regime (TM).

    On the Democrat side, there'd be no questions to ask, since the Democrats and MSM are in complete agreement on all the major issues.

    So, the Republicans aren't going to pl
  • How do you pronounce 'nuclear'?

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:27PM (#21158767)
    How about instead.

    Which is better for science:

    1: Publicly funded science where scientists are encouraged to seek grant funding from the state.
    2: Privately funded science where Universities would be encouraged to fund research through licensing.

    Then answer the same question with respect to society.
     
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:31PM (#21158803) Journal

    The author pretends to want a debate, but then goes on to claim evolution as a fact, ridiculing those candidates who believe otherwise including the current president of the US of A.

    DOn't get me wrong, I think bush is a looney and that evolution is self-evident HOWEVER if you already go into it with an opionin that evolution is true AND global warming (and related stuff) is true, then what is left to debate?

    It is an intresting idea, but sadly it won't happen.

    • If you want to find out if someone is a holocaust denier, you mention the holocaust and ask their views. You'll know in short order if they're the kind of person you want to vote for. Same goes for science.

      Faux populist appeals aside, evolution is the best answer science has (meaning the best answer we have), and since science has given us air conditioning, the internet, medicine, sanitized food/water, etc, we can probably agree that science is important. If someone dismisses science because it conflic

  • this is stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:31PM (#21158821) Homepage Journal
    it is ironic really. the scientifically inclined poopooing the president's lack of knowledge on science... thereby revealing their own profound ignorance about what government and politics is all about

    there's a tendency amongst the politically ignorant that every problem in the world, every pot hole, heart attack, lost job, lost football game, barking dog, homeless drug addict, etc., is the fault of the guy at the very top: "the president should be deeply involved in what matters to me, me, me" pffft

    1. as if he knows
    2. as if he cares
    3. as if he should care

    the point of government and real leadership is to delegate responsibility: the local public works department of your local city are the people to go to, not the president of the united states

    the exact same logic applies with science. the president doesn't need to know ANY science

    in fact, if the president were really into science, i'd be worried: he has better things to spend his time with. he should delegate the scientific inquiries to subordinates and departments. with all of the problems in the world, you really want our president spending hours exercising his mind on the homeobox gene or the source of cosmic rays?

    i for one don't

    seriously, this debate is a really stupid idea
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DamnStupidElf (649844)
      the exact same logic applies with science. the president doesn't need to know ANY science

      And he probably doesn't need to know ANY economics, or ANY war theory, or have ANY morals, because he can always delegate those things to subordinates. Too bad if people vote for a "likable" president who doesn't have ANY common sense and picks horrible advisers who are bad at the things they should be masters at. After all, without ANY management experience or ANY critical thinking ability it will be impossible for
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Boronx (228853)
      And the president doesn't need to know any military strategy,
      doesn't need to know anything about those strange foreigners,
      doesn't need to know anything about finance,
      doesn't need to know anything about the law,
      doesn't need to know anything about diplomacy
      doesn't need to know anything about policy.

      Hmm. Seems like we've given your theory a try once or twice and it didn't work out.
  • Why yes, they can push laws that supersede the laws of science. People fall from bridges and die? Why make gravity illegal!

    Some laws are that stupid.
  • "On Faith?" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by StarEmperor (209983)
    Why is a discussion about a scientific debate under the "On Faith" section of the Washington Post?

    It sounds like a "science-only Presidential debate" is code for "asking the Presidential candidates whether or not they accept the Theory of Evolution."
  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:39PM (#21158933)
    You can debate theory. You can debate the impact and correlation of facts, but facts are facts and should not be "debated."

    The current U.S. administration has been very effective at creating FUD around fact. Facts are those things that have been documented as 100% true. (not "truth" which is, of course different)

    Once you allow "facts" to be debated, you allow any discussion of the result of those facts to be derailed. Any discussion then focuses on whether or not the "facts" are true. So the standard M.O. the last 7 years is to question the validity of facts, stall any discussion of the facts because there is question about the fact, and then politicize and censure scientists based on the FUD about the facts.

    Debate science? no thanks. Take a science quiz/test, sure. We already have these idiots debating science, I'd like to see some measure of their understanding of science.

  • by NetSettler (460623) <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:41PM (#21158945) Homepage Journal

    Politicians have gotten scientific about saying they are steadfastly for or opposed to an idea because that sells, but votes are about making compromises. And in a complicated bill with multiple topics, the reasons for the compromises are lost, so there's always something to cling to in explaining why you're for X but voted against it, since there's always a Y that was in the bill that you said you opposed.

    The problem is that politicians have caught onto, but journalists have not, the notion that they can arrange questions to be "are you in favor" or "are you against", but no real world question is of this form. So there is no relationship between what they say and what they do. The real world presents choices between multiple things you want but cannot have all at the same time. The real world puts penalties on getting the things you want.

    A single-issue debate will never do it. Let's see an Socratic inquiry. Each politician locked in a separate room, with a Faraday cage to prevent transmitting data, and asked the same questions at the same time, unable to know what others are answering. A fixed set of questions. As much time as they need to answer them all. Then we can play the results for people to compare. Let's ask them if they had to choose between health care and saving the environment because we just didn't have the money, which would they think was more critical? Ask them if we had to choose between letting terrorists into the country and investing in education, where would they think the money best spent?

    If you're going to talk science exclusively, let's make sure to talk science policy and philosophy, not just science fact. Presidents aren't scientists, but they need to be good managers who will create sound policy capable of representing us without saying "gee, you elected me, but I delegated it and have no responsibility."

    Here's an example question: "You're the president. A recent report suggests that the environment is going down the tubes in ten years unless we stop using fossil fuels altogether. How would you verify the truth of this claim? What would be the next step in determining policy? Would you make this policy or would you delegate it? How would you decide who you could delegate it to? Would you inform the American people that it worried you and why or why not?" Now the reverse, "You're the president. You've been telling people not to use fossil fuels at all, but a recent report says that's hogwash." Same set of questions: "How would you verify the truth of that? What would be the next step in determining policy? Would you make this policy or inform the American people that it worried you and why or why not?"

  • by poptones (653660) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:48PM (#21159043) Journal
    Let's have the candidates debate the freakin CONSTITUTION. You know... that withered old piece of paper they're sworn to defend?
  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:56PM (#21159163) Homepage
    Sadly, only one candidate knows anything about the subject.
  • 8th Grade Biology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by writerjosh (862522) * on Monday October 29, 2007 @02:00PM (#21159225) Homepage
    A science debate is a good idea, but it would never happen. Most of the candidates would say something like, "it would be like a debate on religion, or a litmus test for presidency." They would reject the debate on those grounds alone.

    While I admire Chapman's request, it's impractical. Imagine a candidate being asked a biology question that an 8th grader would know, but not understanding some of the basic terminology. They would look foolish in front of millions of Americans. Could you or I remember all of our 8th grade biology? I think not. Therefore, no politician would agree to such a debate: it would only hurt them, not help them.

    Plus, most Americans simply aren't concerned with science. National security and the economy are the pressing matters of the day.
  • by hey (83763) on Monday October 29, 2007 @02:46PM (#21159867) Journal
    Each candidate could send the person to the debate who they would appoint as National Science Adviser.

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