[CASW New Horizons Briefing:  Sharon Long, PhD]

We were treated to a surprise visit from one of Senator Obama’s science advisors, Sharon Long of Stanford University.  She spoke for a while about bama’s science policies — nothing that hasn’t been written about ad-nauseum on the blogosphere already.  But there was one question, asked by David Ehrenstein of Physical Review Focus, that I found interesting.

He asked about Obama’s support of corn ethanol.  Scientists say that corn ethanol is a bad way to deal with energy issues — you create more carbon dioxide harvesting the corn than you save by using the ethanol.  Yet it tends to be supported because it helps farmers in corn states.  What is Obama’s vision, why is he supporting ethanol?  Dr. Long responded that, of course, Senator Obama currently represents the state of Illinois, so his platforms are influenced by the interests of that state.  She can’t speak to his campaign plans, but as a scientist she does agree that corn ethanol is not a sustainable solution.  There is too much energy input for amount of energy output. No scientist thinks that massive monoculture is a good idea.  As science advisor, she would give advice that supports the overall stability of croplands in the U.S.

I just thought that was interesting.

In case any of you have missed it… Obama is increasingly the candidate who is the most science friendly. You can see a redux of his detailed plan for science and technology and the letter from 61 Nobel Laureates endorsing Obama . You can see more on the candidates’ positions on science & technology on the dedicated blog from Discover magazine – A Vote for Science.

My conservative Christian salvation-army family was visiting this weekend and we all delicately avoided questions of politics. I know they’re all voting for McCain, in part because of the McCain campaign’s support of intelligent design. A canvasser came to the door during their visit to ask who we were voting for, and my mother and I both whispered “Obama.” My aunt called out after him, “We all love each other, but we don’t talk politics.”

But, I mean, <sigh>, it’s a bit tough. Surprisingly, though, my uncle has taken me up on my suggestion to listen to Point of Inquiry (the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, devoted to rationalism). That’s a very thoughtful show, that doesn’t disparage people for their beliefs, simply promotes a rationalist view of the world. In particular its areas of interest are:

  1. Pseudoscience and the paranormal (Bigfoot, UFOs, psychics, communication with the dead, cryptozoology, etc.)
  2. Alternative medicine (faith healing, homeopathy, “healing touch,” the efficacy of prayer, etc.)
  3. Religion and secularism (church-state separation, the effects and proper role of religion in society, the future of secularism and nonbelief, etc.

My uncle said that he understands where “they” are coming from a bit more, now, and is considering writing an essay on the role of science and religion that can speak to both sides.

Here’s a nice post from Framing Science about how atheists’ condescending attitude towards religion is self-defeating.

Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy just posted a very nice summary of Obama’s responses to a set of science questions. I generally don’t do politics on this blog, but this is the first posting I’ve seen that offers a pretty nice comprehensive summary. Phil writes:

Both Senators Obama and McCain have made cursory statements about various aspects of science, but that’s not enough. Science is critical, absolutely critical, to the health of the US, so we need better and more in-depth answers. To get them, a group of six citizens created Science Debate 2008 to “… restore science and innovation to America’s political dialogue.”

They asked each candidate a series of science questions. As of this moment, Obama is the only one who has answered, though McCain says he will.

Obama’s answers to these questions are, to me, very heartening. He has been accused of giving no specifics when answering questions, but that is misleading at best (the noise machine is very good at making noise). In these answers he does indeed give many specifics, and to my eye is taking the right road to scientific progress and innovation in this country

Read Phil’s summary of Obama’s answers to the questions here.

I liked what one reader commented:

Wow! Can I vote for the person who actually composed Obama’s answers?

Here is what Obama said about science education in particular:

I recently introduced the “Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Act of 2008″ that would establish a STEM Education Committee within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to coordinate the efforts of federal agencies engaged in STEM education, consolidate the STEM education initiatives that exist within the Department of Education under the direction of an Office of STEM Education, and create a State Consortium for STEM Education. … I also recently sponsored an amendment, which became law, to the America Competes Act that established a competitive state grant program to support summer learning opportunities with curricula that emphasize mathematics and problem solving.

On a related note, there are several posts at Framing Science about Palin’s support of creationism: here and here plus a AAAS alert on Palin’s policies. See also a post that it’s a strategic mistake to dismiss the GOP as anti-science, with the example that one of McCain’s biggest contributors is also a science advocate.

UPDATE: Phil Plait just blogged about McCain’s Science Policy based on his answers to the Science Debate 2008 questions. Some items that struck me:

  • McCain sounds like he doesn’t realize that there is currently a science advisor (routinely ignored, but present nonetheless)
  • He admits that global warming exists (a good thing). However, the liberal media has pointed out that his track record of following through on environmental action isn’t good.
  • He supports building of more nuclear power plants (which Phil Plait agrees with), but then says that he wants to leave alternative energy to the free market, unregulated by governmental meddling. I’m with Dr. Plait on this — governmental regulation is a good thing in the energy biz, and alternatives do need subsidies. After all, how did nuclear and coal and such get to the point that they are at today? Heavy governmental meddling and subsidies. The free market does not cure all. Shame on you McCain. What a cop-out.
  • On science education, his answers are vague, and then he says that he supports privatization of schools. Well, at least he’s being consistent with his crummy answers on the environment in terms of a foolhardy belief in the good of capitalism and the free market. As Plait says:

Private corporations? What? That’s nuts! Again, I point to the way the market has behaved recently. I don’t think we should leave something as critical as educating our children in the hands of corporations. That’s insanity.

  • He does pretty well on space exploration and freedom of scientific research. As expected, he’s against stem cells on the basis of “moral values.”

I do suggest you read Phil’s original post here, very good read.

Sciencegeekgirl is, unfortunately, not sciencepolicygeekgirl. I welcome comments on the above!

I’ve been reading the Framing Science blog a little bit lately, and for those of you who are gobbling up political opinion nowadays (and you know who you are) you can find a little bit more of it on Framing Science, from a scientific bent. He’s got a fair amount on climate change (such as McCain’s climate ad) and also some musings on other aspects of the campaign, such as the role of religion in Obama’s campaign. For anyone not aware of Framing Science, blogger Matt Nisbett does just that — talks about the implicit frames that define the message that’s being conveyed, separately from the content.

For anyone familiar with the McCain climate ad, Nisbett summarizes an interesting study that tracked viewers emotions during the course of the ad:

…John McCain’s recent television ad focusing on global warming, he frames his position as a pragmatic “middle way” approach between the two extremes of denying there is a problem and resorting to heavy taxation and regulation. The ad even ends by offering up the complementary frames that global warming is in fact a national security problem and involves a moral duty to future generations. Perhaps most notably, the ad opens by using imagery of more intense hurricanes, a “pandora’s box” framing that has led to claims of alarmism directed at advocates such as Al Gore.


What’s interesting from the results [of the study], is that in the beginning of the ad, Democrats respond positively to the opening pandora’s box frame focusing on hurricanes, all three partisan groups decline in reaction to the discussion of two gridlocked polar extremes on the issue, and then Republicans spike favorably to the frame focus on national security and moral duty respectively.