Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Presidential debates’ ‘lip service’

Last week, science took a back seat to irrelevant connections between Sen. Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the Weather Radicals: in other words, tabloid-style topics that wouldn’t even merit a cover of The National Enquirer. Not only was this a sad day in American democracy, it was outright repulsive display of anti-professionalism.

The purpose of a presidential debate is to provide voters with enough knowledge regarding both the candidates and the issues, to be able to make a well informed decision come the first Tuesday in November. The ABC debate, held April 16 in Philadelphia, made a mockery of the viewers, candidates and democratic process alike by manufacturing trivial issues and feeding already determined insignificant ones when they asked questions such as “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?” and “Do you believe in the American flag?”

Well, guess what: Reverend Wright probably “loves” America more than any of us and the American flag is not something you believe in, it just is: you can believe that it represents democracy, free speech and the like, but at the rate we’re going, those too will become meaningless.

But this is beside the point: What turned out to be a worthless debate took the place of what would have turned out to be, regardless of the moderators’ conduct, a necessary debate.

The lip service that the sciences receive in presidential debates is embarrassing.

In the ABC debate, the word “science” was uttered a total of zero times. And the words technology and global warming were uttered only a fewtimes.

The media and voters need to understand that our presidential candidates (John McCain included) can sustain a healthy discussion about the one, most important topic that has yet to be debated without necessarily getting bogged down in the scientific jargon of doctors, scientists and engineers.

Science is not scary to talk about; if you think it is, get over yourself.

In the Democratic debates, when the candidates approach the topic of science, they talk in generalities about putting money into scientific research to develop renewable energy. Yet neither Clinton nor Obama has a plan that stipulates how much money they are willing to put into the scientific organs of government already in place, like the National Institute of Health and National Science Foundation, among others.

Institutes such as these are being shortchanged when they should be at the forefront of the budgeting debate. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture, which is supposed to standardize the quality of crops and, by association, the quality of foodstuffs, has to apply for grants in order to fund their research when they should expect to receive a constant flow of money to fund their research. Then, people complain when produce we purchase in the store doesn’t receive the desirable oversight.

This failure is our own fault, not theirs.

In the latest Programme for International Student Assessment on science education, circa 2006, the United States ranked 24 out of 29 total countries. That’s abysmal. The U.S. cannot hold itself to such a low standard in terms of math and science. And yet neither the Bush administration nor the Congress has done anything about it.

Though President Bush claims to have made an impact for the better on our education system via the No Child Left Behind Act, that act only emphasizes, and poorly at that, reading and English, while shortcutting mathematics and science. If the United States wants to continue being a force in the world with respect to innovation and technology, it needs to reform its education system to a well rounded one that includes, if not strongly stresses, math and science.

In the Republican debates, science was only really discussed once: when all of the candidates were asked if they believed in evolution. I acknowledge that it is one’s right to not agree with a theory that has been thoroughly analyzed and supported by countless experiments, but I believe, and this has been proven by former candidate Mike Huckabee, that this lack of belief, or even acknowledgement, is regressive and inhibits science education. Luckily, John McCain is, by far, the only Republican candidate to have expressed concern about global warming and scientific methods for finding clean, renewable energy.

But even McCain’s dare to dream green from a Republican standpoint isn’t nearly enough.
All of the candidates declined the first science debate in Philadelphia on April 18 and instead subscribed to the awful ABC debate that took place two days earlier. Hopefully this time around, however, the candidates have learned their lessons and will engage in a debate that is meaningful. The second push for a science debate has already begun. It will hopefully take place in early to mid May and will be held at Portland State University.

The first step in regaining our ground in scientific advancement is to spur our eminent leaders to give it more than mere mention here and there. We need a thorough chat to make voters, as well as the candidates, aware of the imperative of science.

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