Sciencedebate 2008 – McCain’s response: more “sound science”!

Well, well, I can let out my breath now, for John McCain has finally responded to the 14 questions from Science Debate 2008, a mere couple of weeks after Obama. And he’s even used more words than Obama on many of the questions – but then he needs them to mention his service in the navy and how that qualifies him to be president, doesn’t he? And remember, his team had two weeks to study Obama’s response and tailor their responses. This is still not an actual debate, with a sustained back-and-forth; this may even be the one and only time we hear from the candidates on science policy issues, although I still hope some of these questions make it into the televised debates. What of the substance of McCain’s answers, though, you ask? Well, see for yourself, in this side-by-side comparison. I may add some specific thoughts later, especially on environmental and conservation issues (like I did with Obama’s anwers), but let me just make some quick observations. On the surface, both candidates hit similar themes on many of the questions, with McCain attempting to retain some of his “maverick” pro-science creds by addressing global warming, and even stem cell research better than the current occupant of the white house. Therefore, one must look more closely; I haven’t had the time to do that yet, but some things do jump out:

  1. On global warming (as indeed elsewhere throughout the questionnaire), the language both of them use is very revealing, and probably worthy of some linguistic analysis. McCain avoids blaming human activities directly for climate change or even clearly agree that the climate is already changing! (e.g., when he says, “The same fossil-fuels that power our economic engine also produced greenhouse gases that retain heat and thus threaten to alter the global climate.“)
  2. McCain sets a less stringent goal for 2050 in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 60% below 1990 levels compared to Obama’s 80% goal. And both want to use market-based cap-n-trade solutions.
  3. McCain makes no mention of any engagement with the international community on global warming, nor even acknowledge that the US has any obligations towards the rest of the world on this issue. His focus is entirely on US economic and security issues – not surprising, but something to give you voters a pause. And this is true for most of his answers – very little international engagement.
  4. On energy, McCain is strongly pushing nuclear energy, with hardly any mention of associated environmental or safety issues, while Obama is more cautious in including nuclear energy within a range of other options.
  5. It is also clear that McCain—no surprise here—favors private R&D over publicly funded science to find solutions to many of the challenges. Think about what that means, especially on environmental issues where industry has more short-term reasons to paper over problems than implement unpalatable solutions!
  6. There is also the expected difference in how much each candidate emphasizes military or defense related science & tech.
  7. The differences on stem cell research and genetics are predictable too.
  8. On question 12 (Scientific Integrity), the difference is again revealing: McCain (obviously) does not mention the problem of ideological bias that so pervades decision making by the current administration; so expect more of the same, I worry.
  9. Even more revealing, and worrisome, is McCain’s repeated invocation of that loaded phrase: sound science! That alone bears a good bit of attention, for it is right-wing / industry-shill code used to question established science by generating false controversies!

I’ll let you ponder that while I get ready to teach in 20 minutes. More later, perhaps.

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