Counting last night’s debate in Brooklyn, there have been a total of 22 debates this campaign season. And there is one area that has hardly been talked about at all: science. To remedy that, a group of science enthusiasts are trying, for the third election in a row, to organize a science debate. As Åsa Secher reports, 50,000 people have signed their petition so far – among them are Nobel laureates as well as celebrities like Johnny Depp. So will this be the year it actually happens?
So we’ve heard a lot about scandals like this:
I did not send or receive any emails marked classified at the time. (0:05)
Controversial proposals like this:
We need to build a wall, and it has to be built quickly. (0:06)
But not so much about topics like these:
…biodiversity, biosecurity and pandemics, biotech, climate change, drugs, environment, evolution and origins, food and agriculture, immigration, infrastructure, innovation.
And this is where ScienceDebate.org comes in. Matthew Chapman, is one of the founders.
Well, because when I started this thing in 2007, the reason I did it was I was watching all the debates, and I noticed after a while that nobody was talking about science. (0:12)
The numbers this year bear that out. The media watchdog group Media Matters did the math: out of the nearly 1,500 questions asked in the 20 first debates, only 22 were about climate change. And the moderators were also twice as likely to ask a climate question to a Democratic candidate than a Republican one.
Now, Chapman is not a scientist, he writes screenplays for a living, but he does have science in his DNA. Literally.
I am Darwin’s great great grandson. (0:03)
But you don’t have to be related to scientific royalty to have a question to ask. In fact, visitors to the sciencedebate.org website, have already submitted more than 432 questions on 33 different topics. Like scientific literacy.
That’s a really good one, because that’s where I think we could do much better. (0:06)
Donna Farber is looking at the questions submitted on the website. She’s an immunologist at Columbia Medical School.
When I say scientific literacy I don’t mean do they know about all these biological pathways and processes or do they know about physics or something, but it’s really just understanding in a very fundamental way what science is. (0:12)
She says if people knew more about how science works, like what a control group is or how you know if a study was done well, they could listen to the politicians, look up the facts and then judge for themselves.
If there was gonna be a science debate, Farber wants scientists to ask the questions. That’s not exactly Chapman’s plan — journalists would still moderate the debate, but there would be a scientist on the panel to push back if the candidates made scientifically false statements. So, if a candidate says humans aren’t to blame for climate change…
…they would be asked to produce evidence for it, and if they couldn’t, they would… their view of this would be questionable, wouldn’t it? (0:09)
Monika McDermott is not so sure that’s how it would play out. She’s a political scientist at Fordham university.
…first of all, they would never move from their position, the argument would become about how you interpret facts or which facts you use, and that’s not a necessarily a very productive debate. (0:14)
Chapman says it would still be better to put the issues on the table, than not bother at all. And they have had some impact. The Obama & Romney campaigns did answer questions about science in writing, during the 2012 election season. But despite 50,000 signatures and support from scientists, university presidents and celebrities around the country – there still hasn’t been a science debate on tv.
Nobody really ever says no. It’s just that you kind of don’t get an answer. (0:06)
And when I reached out to the presidential campaigns for comment… neither did I.
Åsa Secher, Columbia Radio News