Science: Candidates' platforms offer similar goals but different paths

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 9, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Both John McCain and Barack Obama strongly support government investment in science and technology. They say that expanded research and development are vital for America's health, economy and environment. Otherwise, they warn, the U.S. may be overtaken by Europe, China and elsewhere.

However, Democrat Obama leans more toward government help, while McCain's Republican approach includes lower taxes, incentives to private industry and less government regulation.

Obama says the federal budget for physical and biological sciences, mathematics and engineering should be doubled over the next 10 years.

McCain also supports increased government spending, but specifies no amount or timing. However, he's vowed to freeze domestic outlays for all purposes except for national security, veterans and a few other "vital" but unspecified programs in his first year in office.

"Ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead the world in science and technology will be a central priority for my administration," the Obama campaign said in answer to a set of questions posed by Sciencedebate, an independent group representing scientific organizations, universities, business leaders and elected officials.

"My policies will provide broad pools of capital, low taxes and incentives for research in America," the McCain campaign said in answering the same questions. "I am committed to streamlining burdensome regulations."

Both candidates would make existing tax credits for research and development permanent.

McCain would also offer a $300 million prize for advanced battery technology. He would give a $5,000 tax credit to anyone who buys a zero-emission car, which isn't yet available.

Obama promised to name a chief technology officer to ride herd on various cabinet departments involved in these matters. For his part, McCain said he would appoint a science and technology adviser within the White House.

Despite their general agreement on the importance of investments in science and technology, the candidates differ on some details:

STEM CELLS

Both candidates say they support research on stem cells that could replace damaged tissues and cure disease, but they disagree on the use of cells from human embryos.

Obama would end President Bush's ban on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells that dates to Aug. 9, 2001. He said adult stem cells are not an adequate substitute for embryonic cells, which he called the "gold standard" for research. He would foster the use of frozen embryonic stem cells already stored in fertilization clinics.

Like Obama, McCain would allow researchers to use left-over embryonic stem cells available from fertilization clinics, as well as cells taken from adults and from amniotic fluid. However, he opposes the intentional creation of such human cells for research purposes, and would make their use a federal crime.

SPACE

Both candidates support human exploration of the moon and Mars and robotic science missions to other planets, solar systems and galaxies. Both want to complete the International Space Station. Both support NASA's Constellation program to replace the aging U.S. shuttle fleet. Both would allow an extra shuttle flight, beyond those now planned, to minimize the gap before the launch of its successor, Orion. Both favor involving the private sector and foreign partners in space missions.

McCain, a past chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has long supported programs for space science and exploration. His Sciencedebate answer says investment in space is important to "the future of our national security, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness and national pride."

Obama would re-establish the former National Aeronautics and Space Council to coordinate military and civilian, commercial and scientific activities in space.

EVOLUTION

Both candidates say they believe in evolution and oppose the teaching of creationism or "intelligent design" in public school science classes.

"I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated," Obama told Sciencedebate.

"I believe in evolution," McCain said during a Republican primary debate last year. "But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also." In his 2005 book, Character Is Destiny, McCain wrote: "Darwin helped explain nature's life. ... He did not exclude God."

McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, has supported the teaching of creationism as well as evolution in public school.

"Teach both," she said at a debate on Oct. 27, 2006, when she was running for governor of Alaska. "Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

SCIENCE EDUCATION

McCain and Obama both support programs to improve Americans' performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM for short.

McCain would offer bonuses to math and science teachers who take jobs in challenging schools. He wants community colleges to train workers in digital technologies. He'd give $250 million to states to support online education.

Obama proposes Teacher Residency Academies to add 30,000 new teachers to high-need schools, including training thousands of science and math teachers.

ON THE WEB

See the candidates' full answers to the Sciencedebate questions

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