No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

The Candidates on Science

Both Obama and McCain have given their answers to the questions posed by Science Debate 2008.

Don't ask me about where the money is supposed to come from for any of their proposals.

1. Innovation

Obama correctly connects the dwindling number of US graduates in the sciences to education in earlier grades. Unfortunately, he wants kids to "graduate knowing how science works – using hands-on, IT-enhanced education," whereas I would consider the bolded phrase almost an oxymoron. More hands-on experience, please. Similarly, he offers "proposals for providing broadband Internet connections for all Americans" in order to "ensure that more students are able to bolster their STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] achievement." Promising a cable modem in every pot is great, but I don't see a direct connections to STEM achievement. His other proposals to increase grants and providing teacher training are more welcome, but somewhat diffuse. Making the R&D tax credit permanent sounds spiffy to me, and is more directly tied to 'innovation'.

"Under [McCain's] guiding hand, Congress developed a wireless spectrum policy that spurred the rapid rise of mobile phones and Wi-Fi technology that enables Americans to surf the web while sitting at a coffee shop, airport lounge, or public park." Now I know who to blame. McCain's lengthy answer is a rather empty litany of feel-good. The focus seems to be on Big Business and the bottom line; reading between the lines, McCain will see to it that factory workers displaced by robots will be retrained to do online tech support.

Verdict: Even if his solutions are questionable, at least Obama understood what the question was really about. Clear Obama win.

2. Climate Change

McCain is a teensy bit coy on whether human activity has caused, or merely threatens to cause, climate change. He proposes a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Good. He wants to strengthen the penalties on CAFE standards for cars. Good, but tightening the standards themselves would be even better. In one breath, McCain says that "In the quest for alternatives to oil, our government has thrown around enough money subsidizing special interests and excusing failure." In the next (or rather the previous), he is "committed to investing two billion dollars every year for the next 15 years on clean coal technologies," although the government has already thrown some wasted money around in that rather dubious (IMHO) direction. His "$300 million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars" could stimulate valuable technology.

Obama also supports cap-and-trade. He promises to "re-engage with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change." Even if nothing substantive comes of that, it will help allay international fears that the US has gone rogue on climate change.

Verdict: Both favor cap-and-trade, which is good. McCain's other ideas are more about energy than climate change, but might yield something good, though I have strong doubts about so-called 'clean coal'. I call it a tie.

3. Energy

Obama has "proposed programs that, taken together, will increase federal investment in the clean energy research, development, and deployment by $150 billion over ten years." Good, and his list of specifics looks good, even if clean coal is in there. Obama wants to increase fuel economy standards 4% a year, and continue the subsidies for renewable energy. Good, and probably good.

McCain wants to build "45 new reactors by 2030". Very good, unless this can only be done by tossing out grotesque subsidies to the poor, poor utility companies. McCain "voted against the current patchwork of tax credits for renewable power because they were temporary, and often the result of who had the best lobbyist instead of who had the best ideas," but he promises to see that it's done properly in the future. Seems like a self-serving explanation.

Verdict: Tough call, but I like Obama's focus on primary research and his list of specifics, which includes research into improved nuclear reactors, if not as much support as McCain offers to nukes. Obama by a nose.

4. Education

"My Administration will promote economic policies that will spur economic growth and a focus on an innovative economy." That's how McCain starts off his answer about education. "I have long supported grants for educational instruction in digital and wireless technologies, targeted to minorities and low-income students who may not otherwise be exposed to these fields... [to] help re-train displaced workers as they prepare for the rapidly evolving economy." Patronize much? Going from McJobs to iJobs - there's an innovative economy for you. He presents a litany of things we 'must' do, but doesn't really describe how they will get done. "I will devote 60 percent of Title II funding for incentive bonuses for high performing teachers to locate in the most challenging educational settings, for teachers to teach subjects like math and science, and for teachers who demonstrate student improvement." I like it. "I will allocate $250 million through a competitive grant program to support states that commit to expanding online education opportunities." Skepticism rising.

Obama: "STEM education is no longer only for those pursuing STEM careers; it should enable all citizens to solve problems, collaborate, weigh evidence, and communicate ideas." Bang, out of the park. OK, there's the mission statement, where's the beef? "Through Teacher Service Scholarships, a Teacher Residency Program, and Career Ladders, I will transform the teaching profession from one that has too many underpaid and insufficiently qualified teachers to one that attracts the best STEM teaching talent for our schools." Maybe, maybe.

Verdict: Obama at least has the vision to see what science education ought to provide to the citizenry. HellifI know how to fix education in the US, so I'm not gonna judge between their teacher training/incentivizing programs. Obama by a vision.

Man, this is getting long. I give up for now. To be continued?

Bonus quotes:

McCain on Obama: "And when you look at some of the planetariums and other foolishness that he asked for, he shouldn’t be saying anything about Governor Palin."

Hearsay on Palin:

Another valley activist, Philip Munger, says that Palin also helped push the evangelical drive to take over the Mat-Su Borough school board. "She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the board," said Munger, a music composer and teacher. "I bumped into her once after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God. I said, 'Sarah, how can you believe in creationism -- your father's a science teacher.' And she said, 'We don't have to agree on everything.'

"I pushed her on the earth's creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she'd seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them."
Tags: blog, politics, science

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