Monday, September 27, 2004

OK, here's some science and politics for real

Chris Mooney ( has great news about a new 527 organization called Scientists And Engineers For Change( They have some good people on board (including the guy who, unlike Gore, actually did invent the Internet), collecting money, and going around purple states and giving talks at Universities. Their website is a treasure trove of everything you need to know about the treatment of science by this Administration.

Chris also has several posts analyzing Bush and Kerry responses to questions about science in magazines "Science" and "Nature". Apparently, other science magazines are trying to do the same. October issue of "Natural History" (the article is not online yet, check later at has an interesting contribution to the debate. The magazine sent their questions to both campaigns. Kerry sent his responses. Bush campaign told the editor to get the answers from the Bush website and other publicly available statements. The magazine did this and sent BOTH sets of answers to BOTH campaigns for review. Kerry used the opportunity to edit some of his answers, but the Bush campaign did not respond, so the answers are now published.

Reading this is quite hillarious, actually... While Kerry's answers are thoughtful (though carefully crafted for broad appeal!), Bush's statements were mostly taken from his speeches. Difference in style really jars when seen on the printed page. For instance, from Bush :"We've got to make sure that we conserve energy better. But, listen, we can do things in environmentally friendly way that we couldn't do twenty years ago", "Our biotechnology industry is strongest in the world", "America is proud of our space program" (do the really want people to remember the Bush grandiose Mars initiative today?), "I want people to understand that if you are concerned about the endangered species, then you need to be concerned about catastrophic fire. Fires destroy animals that, obviously, live amidst the raging fire.", "Today, children across America are showing real progress in reading and math", "My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs....I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator", etc. Almost a litany of Bushisms, in stark contrast to Kerry's detail policy proposals (which, framing or no framing, is a perfect way to address a scientific audience). But the Bush campaign agreed to have this published. The editor could not believe this - he sent this to them again, and they still did not care to change a word of it. Are they nuts?

The worst thing is that for two questions there is no Bush answer at all. There is an editor's note instead, claiming that no pertinent statements were found in the public record. One of these questions is about funding of science museums. The other is about evolution, i.e., about allowing groups to eliminate evolution from schools, or introduce alternative explanations (kudos to Nat.Hist.Mag.:unlike "Science", they did not call these explanations "scientific challenges to evolution"). Next to Bush's blank space is Kerry's short and clear answer: he believes in objective standards of scientific inquiry, funding of NIH and NSF to improve our understanding of the world, and "Evolution is a part of that understanding".

I do not know what kind of circulation "Natural History" has, but it must be pretty big, as even after the death of their super-famous essayist S.J.Gould, it is still a very good magazine. Many people are going to read this.

I will look soon (tomorrow is big teaching day, so perhaps Wednesday), if "American Scientist", "Scientific American", "Discover", "Science News" and "Popular Science" have similar questionnaires, and will post results here.

Also, I will do the wordcount of the Kerry/Edwards booklet. I did a quick scan for "science" when it just came out as PDF and the word showed up again and again and again. I will do it for several relevant words. Is there an equivalent Bush booklet? Can someone do the search of the B/C campaign website and post the results here, in the comments?

Kerry was, from the very beginning, the most vocally pro-science primary candidate. I had my other reasons to go for Edwards, but I am more than happy that Kerry is the nominee. This is just from pure narrow selfish interest: I want to be able to get a grant funded next year!

The only thing that bothered me in the Natural History pieve was Kerry's use of the phrase "sound science" in one of his answers. I am still not sure if that was a mistake, or a case of taking a conservative frame and runnig with it, subverting it from within. If you are not sure what I'm talking about, sheck these articles about "sound science":

...from an e-mail:
Sad to say, that article was not selected for our online feature. (We've gota great story on frigate birds and albatrosses that is now online.)
You will be able to e-link to the article fairly soon (we're not sure of thedate) through the EBSCO database. EBSCO can be accessed only bysubscription, however, and the cost (since it includes a lot of journals,not just NHmag) usually limits it to major public libraries, universitylibraries, and large institutional libraries.

"Discover" has published quite a detailed and thoughful comparison of potential scientific futures under Bush and Kerry administrations:
Bush vs. Kerry on Science
Nothing yet in other popular science magazines (although Scientific American has a number of good articles on electronic voting, Star Wars program, Rep.Waxman's struggle against Bush' anti-science agenda, etc.)

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