Science of the times: candidates answer top tech questions

In a Q&A published Tuesday by, Obama and Romney answered the nation's most pressing science questions, on topics spanning innovation, education, energy, climate change, and the internet.

In a Q&A published Tuesday by, Obama and Romney answered the nation's most pressing science questions, on topics spanning innovation, education, energy, climate change, and the internet. The purpose of the debate was to draw attention to the fact that science is "increasingly important topic in national policymaking," and hold candidates accountable to issues of science in the same way they're held accountable for the economy or foreign policy. The candidates' respective answers highlighted key differences in their policy platforms, and the questions themselves reflected the scientific state of the nation.

Here are a few highlights:

Innovation: When asked how best to ensure America remains a leader in innovation, Obama emphasized three things: the importance of an economy built on American manufacturing and skills for workers, funding for research, and investment in education. Romney's answer involved lowering taxes, limiting regulation, and making use of the private sector in areas of education and research.

Climate Change/Energy: A lot of attention has been given to the fact that in his answer to this question Romney departed from previous remarks and conceded that the world is after all warming, but in my opinion it was only a half-concession--he went on to add that he supports "debate" and continued investigation. Apparently he still hasn't grasped that the climate change debate in the scientific community is kind of like the unicorn debate--it simply does not exist. He highlights the difference between "Global Warming" and "America Warming" (I would argue that the latter contributes to the former) and argues that reducing emissions in America would only serve to move them to somewhere like China. He expresses opposition to regulations like cap and trade and carbon tax, arguing that they restrict innovation. But as Michael Gerson points out, regulations that discourage pollution actually promote energy-efficient technological innovation. Obama's answer focused heavily on what he did in the past four years, like instituting carbon pollution limits and reducing oil imports. He was somewhat vague on plans for future policies, simply saying that the problem still needed to be addressed and he would continue efforts to do so. Given how much his campaign has been playing to the party base on policies pertaining to social issues, his relative lack of call for action here is a bit surprising.

Funding: Where does research fit into a budget filled with cuts and constraints? Obama emphasized his support for R&D funding and pointed to past investments he's made in clean energy and elsewhere. He also pointed to the fact that his budget would make permanent the R&D tax credit (which Romney supports as well). Romney said he supported funding for research, and then criticized many of Obama's policies. "Good public policy must ensure that federal research is being amplified in the private sector," he argued.

Pandemics and Biosecurity: When questioned about how to protect the American population about various health threats, Obama emphasized strengthening public health systems so they are well-equipped to handle cases of emergencies. Romney focused on "empowering the private sector," rather than stifling them as he says Obama has done.

Education: When asked to comment on the fact that U.S. math scores have fallen behind and what government can do about it, Obama focused on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education Coalition he's invested in. Romney expressed his belief that increased spending doesn't result in higher scores, and called for education reform centered around school choice.

Read the answers in their original form at

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