Sciencedebate.org, a non-profit organization, gathered fourteen questions that Americans allegedly want answers and debate by Obama and Romney during this presidential election. These questions include science education, innovation and economics, climate change, research and the future, energy, food, fresh water, oceans, internet, policy, natural resources, and vaccines.
CEO of Sciencedebate.org, Shawn Otto, feels that Romney’s opening statement of “I’m not a scientist" was disingenuous, because the politicians are not ministers, economists, military strategists, but yet they still debate economics, taxes, foreign policy, military, and faith.
“Romney begins his answer about climate change by stating "I am not a scientist myself," but Otto sees that as disingenuous. "Candidates readily debate jobs and the economy even though they are not economists," Otto says. "They debate foreign policy and military intervention even though they are not diplomats or generals; they debate faith and values even though they are not priests or pastors. They should also be comfortable debating the top American science questions that affect all voters' lives."
He also complains, as well as some commenters on Romney and Obama’s answers, that Romney does not actually answers questions, but attacks Obama on what he disagrees with concerning science policy.
“Romney says he supports "robust government funding for research" and "a new wave of investment in nuclear power," but mainly focuses on criticizing Obama's efforts to reduce carbon emissions.”
He also points out that while Obama notes that the U. S. is "showing international leadership on climate change," he only gives generic answers to the questions, including on Climate Change, adding that we still need to do work on these issues. The leads Otto to “bemoan” both delegates concerning their stance on science and their refusal to debate science on live television.
"While the candidates' answers provide important insights on a variety of key topics, they also illustrate just why a debate on these critical policy issues is so important," Otto says in a press release. "Some of the questions aren't fully answered when they become politically difficult and others could really benefit from followup discussion, for example to hear what ideas the candidates have for solving problems, like climate change, that cross national boundaries."
Otto stated that both candidates are stuck in 20th century thinking, adding, "It's taking them time to realize we're in a new century — the century of science — and that 85 percent of likely voters want them to be debating these topics. Every cycle we're making progress."
Otto did note a “noble highlight” of Romney’s responses, in which he said, “My view is we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet…”, but his ideas concerning what to do about the problem is not clear.
"However Romney's ideas about what to do about the problem are not clear. They contrast with Obama's, who says he has specifics plans and is taking specific steps such as doubling fuel economy standards, but who was unable to get a cap-and-trade bill through congress."
Sciencedebate.org, which includes more than 40,000 scientists and engineers, concerned citizens, about 200 leading universities and 15 science organizations, dozens of Nobel laureates, and notable writers and editors as supporters, also asked about three dozen congress members a subset of eight questions. According to Sciencedebate.org, none of the congress members has answered any of the questions at this time.
"The fact that these diverse science organizations came to a universal consensus shows just how important they feel it is that Americans — and the candidates for president — pay attention to these critical problems," he says.
In 2008, the group asked similar questions of Obama and McCain, but even then, the two would not debate the science issues live, as they did faith, taxes, jobs, and the economy, despite that 85 percent of likely voters allegedly want them to debate the topic.
“The promotion of innovation will begin on Day One, with efforts to simplify the corporate tax code, reform job retraining programs, reduce regulatory burdens, and protect American intellectual property around the world.”
Romney’s idea of “innovation and the economy” is a “plan for a stronger middle class will rebuild the American economy on the principles of free enterprise, hard work, and innovation.”
Romney then continues to write about his growth agenda, which includes “human capital”, taxes, regulation, and trade, with no mention of his environmental record by himself or Obama, but the foundation of his agenda is education and basic research. He complained that the cost of U. S. education “is spiralling out of control” and yet the U. S. “lags behind other developed nations”. He wants to put the interests of parents and students ahead of special interests groups and teachers’ unions. He wants to rid the system of teachers unions.
Obama is committed to a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and economy. He believes this will make the U. S. globally competitive in the 21st century.
Concerning Climate Change, this is where Romney writes, “I am not a scientist”, while Obama stated, “This is one of the biggest issues of this generation, and we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits.” Then Obama writes what he did in his first four years in office to help reduce the human contribution to the greenhouse effect.
Skipping down to question number five, which deals with education, Obama again writes about STEM education, adding that education is an important for a solid middle class.
“Last year, I announced an ambitious goal of preparing 100,000 additional STEM teachers over the next decade, with growing philanthropic and private sector support. My “Educate to Innovate” campaign is bringing together leading businesses, foundations, non-profits, and professional societies to improve STEM teaching and learning.”
He hopes to expand his program to more STEM teachers in the next four years.
However, Romney sees this nation “at risk” and high school graduates must go through remedial programs in order to attend college, stating that our “dysfunctional political system scored worse”. He also writes how U. S. students lag behind their international peers, but does not directly include any religious views or attributes it to any particular science or pseudo-science teaching. He does remark again that the U. S. spends too much on education.
“Politicians have attempted to solve these problems with more spending. But while America’s spending per student is among the highest in the world, our results lag far behind. We spend nearly two-and-a-half times as much per pupil today, in real terms, as in 1970, but high school achievement and graduation rates have stagnated. Higher spending rarely correlates with better results. Even the liberal Center for American Progress acknowledged in a recent study that “the literature strongly calls into question the notion that simply investing more money in schools will result in better outcomes,” and reported from its own research that most states showed “no clear relationship between spending and achievement” even after adjusting for other factors like the cost of living.”
He then blames teachers unions for this issue, complaining that the unions spend millions of dollars “to influence debate in favor of the entrenched interests of adults, not the students our system should serve.” He then accuses teachers unions of having “a very different agenda: opposing innovation that might disrupt the status quo while insulating even the least effective teachers from accountability.”
“Sadly, these priorities do not correlate with better outcomes for our children. To the contrary, teachers unions are consistently on the front lines fighting against initiatives to attract and retain the best teachers, measure performance, provide accountability, or offer choices to parents.
Real change will come only when the special interests take a back seat to the interests of students.”
He then stated that schools, such as the KIPP Academies produce remarkable results. KIPP Academies five pillars of education include High Expectations, Choice & Commitment, More Time, Power to Lead, and Focus on Results. Their program also includes “seven highly effective and predictive strengths”, which are zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity.
Two other schools he mentions are Aspire and Uncommon schools. All three cater to low-income and disadvantage children. KIPP Academies website claims, “More than 87 percent of our students are from low-income families and eligible for the federal free or reduced-price meals program, and 95 percent are African American or Latino.”
Romney also stated that, as part of his educational reform, he wants to give parents a choice of where their child attends schools. He then refers readers to his website for more on his educational reform platform and the full “white paper” concerning his agenda, which has a forward by Jeb Bush.
In his “white paper”, Romney wants to reform George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program so that it has more transparency and responsibility to school, making them give a detail report evaluating the school’s participation in educating the child on each student’s report card (p 3). Romney credits Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” with higher educational achievements that have risen steadily since the program was implemented (p 26), but titles his program “A Chance for Every Child”.
However, in the next paragraph, on page 26, he admits the failures of “No Child Left Behind”, which he attributed to the law’s insufficient accountability of schools responsibilities. He then accuses Obama of failing to work with congress to improve this issue with “No Child Left Behind”.
Many of the answers he gave to sciencedebate.org is found in the “white paper”, including charter schools, but the paper also includes “reforming higher education” (p 10) and “President Obama’s failures” (p 13). He also plans to overhaul Title I and IDEA programs, so that low-income and special needs children’s parents can choose their schools (p 23). To do this, parents “bring funding with them”, which could come in the form of a voucher, but this is not explicitly stated in the “White Paper”.
Obama’s educational policy for early childhood through twelfth grade and higher education, as well as reform, are on the White House website. There, the White House website does discuss reforming “No Child Left Behind”. Because congress did not reauthorize Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Obama Administration granted waivers to 33 states. Obama allegedly gave congress a blue-print to reform education, which included accountability, educational standards, and choices in public schools, as well as STEM and fostering educational excellence, in an effort to reform Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program.
“Under the Administration's blueprint for ESEA reauthorization, state accountability systems will set a high bar of all students graduating from high school ready to succeed in college and careers. The accountability system also will recognize and reward high-poverty schools and districts that are showing improvement in getting their students on the path to success, using measures of progress and growth. States and districts will continue to focus on the achievement gap by identifying and intervening in schools that are persistently failing to close those gaps. For other schools, states and districts would have flexibility to determine appropriate improvement and support options.
The blueprint asks states and districts to develop meaningful ways of measuring teacher and principal effectiveness in order to provide better support for educators, enhance the profession through recognizing and rewarding excellence, and ensure that every classroom has a great teacher and every school has a great principal.”
The White House website gives information on the progress of education reform in higher education and early childhood, and K-12, as well as future plans. However, Fact Check stated that in 2009, the statistics given by Obama were misleading.
“Our colleagues at PolitiFact.com caught President Obama misleadingly claiming last week that "In eighth grade math, we’ve fallen to ninth place." U.S. eighth graders are in ninth place, behind several Asian countries, plus Hungary, England and the Russian federation. That’s according to the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) from the U. S. Department of Education. But eighth graders have actually performed better in math over the years — they haven’t "fallen," as Obama said. PolitiFact points out that in 1995, the U.S. middle-schoolers came in 28th and by 2003, they had moved up to a 15th place finish.”
Romney made similar claims concerning educational statistics in his "white paper", but the claims in his "white paper" were not found on Fact Check to verify their factualness at this time.
Back to sciencedebate.org’s questions, Romney accuses Obama of manipulating “Science and public policy” in his answer to question eleven. He then continues, “Unfortunately, President Obama has repeatedly manipulated technical data to support a regulatory agenda guided by politics rather than science.”
However, Obama stated that as soon as he took office, he “directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to ensure that our policies reflect what science tells us without distortion or manipulation.”
“During my presidency, I have been working to improve transparency and public participation – for instance, by expanding public disclosure of pollution, compliance, and other regulatory information to more efficiently provide the public with information necessary to participate in key environmental decisions. Over the next four years, I will continue seeking new ways to make scientific information more transparent and readily available to the public.
Only by ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda, making scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology, and including the public in our decision making process will we harness the power of science to achieve our goals – to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.”
The Obama Administration and the Office of Science and Technology Policy are committed to restoring science to its rightful place in America as a tool for crafting smart policies that will strengthen the nation. That means getting the best available evidence to decision-makers; hiring highly qualified public servants to interpret that evidence; and strengthening and making full use of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
President Obama’s vision for science in America includes dramatic increases in funding for biomedical research and the physical sciences and engineering; increased support for high-risk/high-payoff research that has the most potential to produce real breakthroughs; and making the R&D tax credit permanent—while eliminating all capital gains taxes on start-up and small businesses—to assure the steady flow of investment that is so crucial to producing good jobs and truly pioneering advancements.
Romney also accuses Obama of blocking energy and technological development in the Science Debate questions and in his "white papers", but on August 28, 2012, the website reported that Obama finalized fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
When combined with previous standards set by this Administration, this move will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads. In total, the Administration’s national program to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U. S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.
“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption. By the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today. It’ll strengthen our nation's energy security, it's good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last.”
The rest of the answers to the other questions, as well as the full answers to the questions above are found on Science Debate’s website.