Matthew Chapman’s suggestion that the presidential candidates have a debate on science is naive, idealistic, and a step in the right direction. It will never happen, because the issues of science we could talk about are not up for debate, and I don’t think any of the candidates in any party are competent to discuss them, and they know it. They won’t step into a venue where their grade-school level understanding of science will face serious challenge, or where their embarrassing misunderstandings will be publicly aired.
Now what would be feasible, I think, would be a debate on science policy. What are they going to do about getting objective science information to congress? What do they propose to do to improve science, engineering and technology education in the schools, and specifically, what are they going to do to address major failures of the school to instruct their graduates in basic concepts like evolution? What are they going to do about an alternative energy policy, and global climate change? A lot of these questions would get down to the candidate’s understanding, but I’m more concerned that my candidate has a plan to improve the public understanding of science, rather than that they know it themselves.
At the very least, Chapman suggests that the debate be led by a panel of qualified experts. This is the best idea of all. We would improve the discourse and the depth of content of these presidential sessions immeasurably by the simple step of firing the incompetent jerks who are always tapped to run these circuses: give Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer, and Random News Head #63 the axe (metaphorically would be good enough, but literally has some virtues, too). Why aren’t the candidates standing up before panels of economists, foreign policy experts, scientists, etc., and getting good questions asked of them by competent people? It would be far more informative, and it would give us a better picture of how a prospective president would handle his own shortcomings.