Americans Want Candidates to Debate Science

Americans Want Candidates to Debate Science

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

“…Statistics –reliable tools in the scientific method— strongly suggest that Americans want a presidential and congressional debate on science, innovation, health, and the environment, and that such dialog should exclude the personal opinions and beliefs of the candidates. Imagine, at last, a conversation over reality, facts, evidence, and rationality. If science becomes the backbone –better the brain— of candidates, and the voters are literate enough to assess it, a single debate shall suffice to unmask it all…”

     85 percent of Americans want a presidential science debate, although more registered democrats (89 percent) than republicans (83 percent) would like a match between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney over science-based challenges in healthcare, climate change, energy, education, innovation and the economy. In fact, 84 percent of likely voters rank science, innovation and healthcare as the third most important topic in a debate, after the economy and taxes, and foreign policy and national security.

“…Does the public prefer presidents and congressional representatives to rationally condition their outlooks to what science says?”

     These views stretch beyond the presidential elections, with 81 percent of probable voters also expecting congressional science debates. But what surprised me most about these figures, released by Science Debate Dot Org, was that 81 percent of the 1000 surveyed adults thought that public policies should be based on science, not the personal opinions or beliefs of elected officials. Really? Does the public prefer presidents and congressional representatives to rationally condition their outlooks to what science says? I love it, because the data implies that we can safely approach politicians and the public with facts, and expect broad appreciation for the truth, the backbone of science. Right?

Above: 81% of Americans want public policies to be based on science, not the personal opinions or beliefs of elected officials. Source Science Debate Dot Org 2012.

     Evolution, climate change, the importance of stem cell research, the benefits of vaccines to public health, the cleanness of clean energy, the dangers of pollution, are all scientific realities –not to mention the impending collision of an asteroid with Earth. But what politicians or the citizens believe about “reality” contradicts the enthusiastic 81 percent support for an honest conversation about facts.

“…what politicians or the citizens believe about “reality” contradicts the enthusiastic 81 percent support for an honest conversation about facts…”

     According to Gallup Poll, 40 percent of Americans accept evolution. Among them, 60 percent of democrats or independents versus 30 percent of republicans think evolution is true. Yet, there is no doubt among scientists that cosmic transformations and Darwinian evolution are factual. Gallup also reports that 58 percent of the general public think that climate change is occurring, versus 75 percent of democrats, 53 percent of independents, and 43 percent of republicans. But thousands of world researchers, advisors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have compiled chronological evidence of concerning fluctuations in climate.

     Evolution aside, which formulation as a scientific reality dates back to, at least, 150 years, and to Charles Darwin’s seminal contributions (On the Origin of Species, 1859, and The Descent of Man, 1871), and whose on-and-off opponents always lose in the court of science and, frequently, in the court of law, the recent human-made corollaries of climate change are also factual despite the opinions of candidates, ideologies or congregations. But here is relevant trivia reported by Yale University and George Manson University Project/Center for Climate Change Communication: Americans trust President Obama (47 percent) more than former Governor Romney (21 percent) as “a source of information about global warming.”

“…what is expected from politicians by the public differs from what is observed in the electorate voting behavior…”

     Remember that four in every five responders to the Science Debate Dot Org poll preferred science-inspired public policies rather than belief-based decisions. However what is expected from politicians by the public differs from what is observed in the electorate voting behavior. Who is telling the truth about evolution or climate change, President Obama or former Governor Romney? The answer is scientists! And that should be the point of reference for those seeking genuineness: learn what science says about reality, expect politicians to understand and match that view, and cast votes accordingly.

“… science… should be the point of reference for those seeking genuineness: learn what science says about reality, expect politicians to understand and match that view, and cast votes accordingly…”

     Harris Interactive has surveyed that, despite medical researchers’ need of experimentation with stem cells to develop treatment or to prevent diabetes, Alzheimer or Parkinson disease, only 72 percent of the American public thinks such research should be allowed, in contrast to 82 percent of democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 58 percent of republicans. But misinformation about health can be even more scandalous, for example, one in every five adults believes that vaccines cause autism.

Above: Views about evolution, climate change, stem cell research, and alternative sources of energy by the American public, registered democrats, independents and republicans. Sources: Evolution: Gallup Poll 2007, Climate Change:  Gallup Poll 2012; Stem Cell Research: Harris Interactive 2010; Alternative Sources of Energy: Pew Research Center 2012.

     The Pew Research Center has reported 52 percent of public support to developing alternative sources of energy –to oil, coal and gas; 65 percent of democrats, 55 percent of independents, and 36 percent of republicans agree with this view; not surprisingly 81 percent of progressives versus 52 percent of conservatives think that more federal funding should sponsor alternative energy research. And three quarters of the electorate trusts more the Environmental Protection Agency –to research, monitor, set standards and reinforce policies concerning pollution— than the US Congress.

“…Imagine, at last, a conversation over reality, facts, evidence, and rationality. …”

     Statistics –reliable tools in the scientific method— strongly suggest that Americans want a presidential and congressional debate on science, innovation, health, and the environment, and that such dialog should exclude the personal opinions and beliefs of the candidates. Imagine, at last, a conversation over reality, facts, evidence, and rationality. If science becomes the backbone –better the brain— of candidates, and the voters are literate enough to assess it, a single debate shall suffice to unmask it all. — © 2012 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

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