The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘President Bush’

Obama Campaign Commits to Address Top American Science Questions

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2012

As I recently blogged, the folks at Science Debate 2012 came up with a list of Top Science Questions for the United States presidential candidates.  The good news is that the campaign for President Obama has committed to addressing these questions; we are now waiting on the Romney campaign to respond.  No matter which candidate you support, please contact them to encourage them to give these scientific and technological issues more emphasis as the election season ramps up…

Why Science Is a Non-Issue in the Election… Again

David Gergen, Michael Lubell and I had a very important conversation with Ira Flatow on this week’s Science Friday about why the science debate project is critical to the country and why it’s nevertheless an uphill battle that will take leadership from everyone receiving this email.

I strongly encourage you to listen in, and then lead.  Speak out about it, especially if you are in a leadership position.  Elected leaders need to hear from you.  Blog about it.  Share it everywhere you are able – particularly with members of the mainstream media.

We are making progress.  I’m happy to report that the Obama campaign has committed to respond to the Top American Science Questions.  That’s a great start.  Hopefully the Romney campaign will soon follow suit.  Please consider making a donation to help us continue to move the ball forward toward written answers, then then actual debate discussion of these critical issues.

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Science Debate 2012 Questions for the Presidential Candidates

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 26, 2012

Last March I passed on the news that Science Debate 2012 was looking for questions to ask the U.S. presidential candidates, and now the questions are here!  In case you don’t know, the whole purpose of Science Debate is to put questions of scientific, engineering, and technological importance into the political debate; considering as how important these issues are and will be in the 21st-century, I think it is more than appropriate to hold our political candidates accountable on such matters.  Take a look at the Science Debate press release and questions:

Science Debate 2012 Press Release

The Top American Science Questions in 2012

“Whenever the people are well-informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “they can be trusted with their own government.”

Science now affects every aspect of life and is an increasingly important topic in national policymaking. invited thousands of scientists, engineers and concerned citizens to submit what they felt were the the most important science questions facing the nation that the candidates for president should be debating on the campaign trail.

ScienceDebate then worked with the leading US science and engineering organizations listed at left to refine the questions and arrive at a universal consensus on what the most important science policy questions facing the United States are in 2012.

Innovation | Climate Change | Research and the Future | Pandemics and Biosecurity
Education | Energy | Food | Fresh Water | The Internet | Ocean Health
Science in Public Policy | Space | Critical Natural Resources | Vaccination and Public Health

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Science Debate 2012: Submit Questions for the Candidates

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 3, 2012

I am happy to announce that Science Debate 2012 is now accepting your submissions for questions to ask the candidates in the 2012 U.S. presidential elections.  Recall the list of questions from Science Debate in the 2008 election cycle, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how this entire thing works.  Basically, it is to put questions of scientific, engineering, and technological importance into the political debate; considering as how important these issues are and will be in the 21st-century, I think it is more than appropriate to hold our political candidates accountable on such matters.  I also like how Shawn Otto and the Science Debate team put it:

Why is this important?

In 2008, the ScienceDebate initiative successfully elevated science and engineering topics in the public dialogue that simply would not have been priorities without our efforts.

To give you an example, when we started, of the 2,975 questions asked the then-candidates for president, just six mentioned “climate change” or “global warming” which, no matter your opinion, is among the top science policy debates.  None of the candidates wanted to talk about science at all.  The topic wasn’t even on Barack Obama’s radar.

By the time we were done, the candidates for president had answered the top 14 science questions facing America.  Those answers made more than 850 million media impressions, reframing science as a national priority.  President Obama’s answers formed the early basis of his science policy.  For the first time, a president went into office with a science policy and a clear idea of how science fit into a larger strategic agenda.  He drew his top science appointments from among our most visible early supporters – including John Holdren, Jane Lubchenco, Steven Chu, Harold Varmus, and Marcia McNutt – and mentioned our mission statement – restoring science to its rightful place – in his inaugural address.

In many ways, the ScienceDebate effort helped bring focus and voice to the value of science in America, and made it a more common topic in the general public’s dialogue.  With this step-by-step, incremental advance, the ScienceDebate initiative had large influence and produced benefits for all Americans.

Today, anti-science forces are more vocal than ever, and ScienceDebate is even more important than it was in 2008.  Our efforts present critical science policy questions in the way American adults are used to taking in complex information: the context of the national policy dialogue.  With so many national issues revolving around science and engineering, your support of ScienceDebate is more important than ever.

If you value public policy based on knowledge instead of ideology, we need your financial support.  Please give now, and join our conversation.


-Shawn Otto and the team at ScienceDebate.Org

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Support Science Debate 2012!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2011

You may recall a new effort in 2008 by the scientific community and backers of science to become more active in the United States’ political process, and I am happy to (re)announce that Science Debate is back for the 2012 election cycle!

Is America ceding its capacity to lead?

Science Debate 2012 is a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a growing number of scientists and other concerned citizens. The signatories to our “Call for Presidential and Congressional Debates on Science & Technology” include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, over 150 leading universities and associations, Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, major business leaders, presidents of universities and major associations, congresspersons of both major political parties, religious leaders, former presidential science advisors, the editors of America’s major science journals, writers, and many others.

We have noticed that science and technology lie at the center of a very large number of the policy issues facing our nation and the world – issues that profoundly affect our national and economic security as science and technology continue to transform our lives. No matter one’s political stripe, these issues pose important pragmatic policy challenges – challenges that are too important and too impactful on people’s lives to be left unaddressed.

We believe these scientific and technological policy challenges can bring out the best in the entrepreneurial American spirit. America can be a leader in finding cures for our worst diseases, inventing the best alternative energy sources, enjoying the most pristine and biologically wealthy environment, and graduating the most scientifically literate children in the world – or we can cede these economic and humanitarian benefits to other countries.

Leadership is about articulating a vision for the future and making it happen.  Will America lead, or will it step aside and be swept along as others take the reins?

We believe a debate on these issues would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities, and it is hard to imagine any candidate not wishing to be involved in such an occasion.

Please join us and work to make Science Debate 2012 a reality nationally, and in your congressional district.

Sign the Science Debate Petition!

Support Science Debate 2012!

And, last but not least, if you harbor any doubts that now, more than ever, is the time for a serious national political discussion of science, science education, and its implications, then just take a few minutes to watch this video clip from the Daily Show…

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9/11 and “How the World Changed”: My Thoughts Ten Years Later

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 11, 2011

Here I sit on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I find myself reflecting on the last ten years since that day.  I wanted to write down some of my thoughts in this blog post, because when it comes to the issue of 9/11 specifically and the broader issue of terrorism in general, I think there is much need for skepticism and critical thinking.  This is most especially true because of the high level of emotion and passion the whole issue of 9/11 invokes, and when our emotions are stirred so strongly we must make sure to temper our passion with reason.  So, here goes…

After ten years, what has become glaringly apparent to me is that the events of 9/11 changed things, but in my opinion it was not really in the way that many people think.  First, I have to say that every time I hear someone say or read that “On Sept. 11th the world changed” or something similar, I just have to shake my head because I think this kind of statement shows an interesting bias.  I say this because, fundamentally, nothing about the world around us really changed on that day – both before and after 9/11, the Earth turns on its axis, the sun rises and sets, and the universe trundles merrily along.  What did change on that day is the perspective which many people, mostly those of us within the United States, view the world around us.  It is unfortunate, I think, that many of us conflate these two things in our minds: we equate how they view the world with how the world actually works.  And this is, I think, the cause of much irrationality and muddled thinking.

Many of us were shaken to our core at the horrors we witnessed as not one, but two, planes slammed into the World Trade Center buildings, and as we heard the news of the attack on the Pentagon.  The sight of the Twin Towers collapsing further sent a shudder down our collective spines, and we lamented the seemingly senseless loss of life in such magnitude.  In some ways, we were brutally and startlingly shaken out of our complacency, which for some consisted of a belief that we in the United States were somehow – magically – immune to such devastation.  And when evidence to the contrary was presented to us, in a most horrific fashion, the reaction of many was precisely what one would expect: fear and anger.

There have been a lot of things written about 9/11 and its aftermath, but one thing I want to note is the manner in which many different people have reacted to the fear and anger brought to the surface due to 9/11: by seeking out some kind of evil “Other” to use as a boogeyman.  Now, don’t misinterpret me here – it is obvious that the attacks of 9/11 were planned and carried out by Al Qaeda, and the concern about groups such as Al Qaeda and the terrorism they perpetuate is a legitimate subject of concern that should be addressed.  What I am talking about goes beyond pointing out the very real threat posed by groups such as Al Qaeda; I am instead speaking of a broader pattern which has become apparent to me over the years.

For example, there are some people who have chosen the “Other” to be all Muslims, equating them with terrorists.  They point to the religion of Islam and its followers and make erroneous statements that we are now in some kind of cultural (or, more disturbingly, “holy”) war between the Western world and the Islamic world.

There are also those who choose the nefarious “Other” to be atheists and godless liberals.  These people tend towards the view espoused by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that the Sept. 11th attacks were somehow a punishment from God against the United States for our nation tolerating atheism and homosexuality in our population.  Many people who cater to this view of the “Other” also seem to view all Muslims as the enemy, as stated above.

Then some people take a look at 9/11 and see the “Other” as the United States government or some portion of it.  These tend to be the people who buy into various 9/11 conspiracy theories, and they are in complete denial about the mountain of facts and evidence that show the September 11th attacks were the result of terrorism at the hands of Al Qaeda.  Many of these people also have a talent for blatantly denying physics in an attempt to justify their worldview, and some even try to work in versions of anti-Semitism by implying that 9/11 was some kind of Jewish plot (thus making Jews the “Other” as well).

Last, but not least, there are those – many of whom are in the skeptical movement – who blame all religion as the evil “Other”.  This includes many of the so-called New Atheist writers (many of whose writings I have read and, in many ways, admire) who seem to think there is something inherently dangerous about any kind of religious belief.  I think it is worth noting that many who call themselves skeptics should be a bit skeptical of making such a sweeping generalization without a more rigorous analysis of the available data.  For reference on this particular point, I suggest the reader listen to a recent, excellent interview of Scott Atran on the Point of Inquiry podcast.

There are numerous variations on this theme of paranoia, fear, and the desire to find an “Other” to blame for the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent repercussions throughout society since that day, but one thing that unites them all is an irrational desire to categorize the situation into a simplistic, black and white, us versus them kind of worldview.  This is perfectly understandable once you know that humans are basically tribalistic in the manner in which they form societies and groups within those societies.  We are, in many ways, hard wired to engage in this kind of simplistic tribal thinking, and we carry it out in our everyday lives all the time.

Our tribal tendencies manifest themselves in myriad ways: in what religion/God/gods we worship, in what political beliefs/parties we adhere to, in our choice of sports team that we support, and even among those of us who call ourselves skeptics.  Sometimes these tribal tendencies are relatively harmless, but in other situations they can be downright dangerous.

Of course, the problem is that in reality the world isn’t always so simplistic.  And this goes back to my original point about our perspective of the world is not the same thing as how the world actually works, which forms the core of this particular blog post.  Most especially when we are frightened and our passions are inflamed by events such as Sept. 11th, it is critical that we not make the fundamental mistake of buying into this mode of thinking because it is the very root of how so much thinking can go terribly wrong.

In closing, allow me to finish with this thought: September 11th, 2001 was an awful enough day as it was… we shouldn’t add insult to injury by allowing our darker natures to overwhelm our ability to reason.

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Science Debate 2.0 – The 2012 Version!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 29, 2011

You may recall that back in 2008 during the U.S. presidential season there was an effort by scientists and lay-supporters of science – called Science Debate – to get the presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, to seriously address various science related issues.  In general, the effort was pretty successful, with both candidates addressing their stances on a number of science-oriented issues, from evolution in the schools to climate science and more.

Now the Science Debate folks are ramping up for the 2012 election season.  If you think science is something important (and who wouldn’t in this day and age?) in terms of being an informed voter, then take some time to head over to Science Debate 2012 and see how the candidates stack up…

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The New Respect for Science: Obama Reverses Bush Stem Cell Ban

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 9, 2009

All I can say is… WHOO-HOOOOO!!! 😀

Watch the entire video clip, because President Obama makes remarks which show this is about so much more than just stem cell research – it is about the entire endeavor of science.

See my recent post – Federal Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research – to learn more about this topic and why it is important to not allow political ideology to trump science.

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Federal Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 8, 2009

In recent news, it seems the eight year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research will be coming to an end on Monday as President Obama overturns President Bush’s restrictions on the research. I view this as a very good thing, though there are those who do not. This post will take on some of the more nonsensical claims about why taxpayer money shouldn’t fund such research or scientific research in general. In many cases those arguing against such research are doing so either because they do not understand the science, or they have some ideological or pseudoscientific agenda to push.

**Aside: For a good primer on embryonic stem cell research, check out this link from the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.

Some people claim that embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is unnecessary. They will often state that it hasn’t led to any cures or treatments, so this is proof that it isn’t needed – they instead insist that the only research to be done with stem cells should use adult stem cells (ASC). However, this is a circular argument because many of those making this argument are the very people who have been holding up the federal funding of ESCR, and in a vacuum of funding then of course it isn’t possible to do any research – duh!

As for ASCR, we have studied adult stem cells for over 40 years, and while that area of research has yielded some treatments, adult stem cells are fundamentally limited in their application. This is because embryonic stem cells are what are called pluripotent, which means they can develop (or be developed) into any kind of tissue in the human body, whereas adult stem cells cannot.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not in any way arguing against ASCR. Quite the contrary, I think we should be researching all avenues of stem cell research, including ESCR.

Another argument made against ESCR is that it is immoral to destroy a blastocyst in the process of removing stem cells. This is another version of the “right-to-life” argument that is advanced by some segments of society, most notably the Catholic Church. Some people make the argument that because a blastocyst is a potential human being, then it must be granted the rights of an actual human being. I find this form of argumentation to be patently ludicrous – equating a blob of less than 50 cells with a real living, breathing person is just silly. One might as well argue that blastocysts are also potential taxpayers, so they should also be taxed just like normal wage earners, or at least the potential parents should be taxed.

At it’s heart, the “right-to-life” argument is a moral & ethical question about how one defines a person. I can understand that some people have a real moral hangup with ESCR for that reason, so I have some advice for them – don’t use the medical treatments that will likely result from the research as opposed to demanding that the rest of society kowtow to their Luddite tendencies.

The third argument which I have heard made against the federal funding of ESCR is that federal funding is unnecessary because some progress on ESCR has already been made with funding from private sources. While it is true that such progress has been made, it is also true that the limitations on federal funding have also slowed down private work. With President Bush’s bans on the funding of ESCR, research in the private sector was also detrimentally affected – so lifting the restrictions on federal funding is actually good for private research!

Not to mention, without federal funding of science in other areas of research, it is highly doubtful that we’d be where we are today. I recently got into an exchange about this subject with a friend of a friend, and she set me off when she started to whine about how it isn’t right that the government use taxpayer money for funding scientific institutions like NASA. I mentioned to her that the entire reason why we have weather satellites (or any satellite technology, for that matter) is because of the research that NASA did – with federal dollars – way back in the 1950s and 60s. So, I said in response, if you are using any form of technology related to satellites, you are directly benefiting from the investment the government made in space science & rocketry research over a generation ago.

I find it ironic that some ignoramuses make such ludicrous and ill-informed arguments on the Internet & World Wide Web. They don’t realize that the Web was developed – through funding with public tax dollars – in the late 1980s at CERN (a particle physics research lab) as a method of allowing physics researchers to share data easily from one side of the huge institution to another. Eventually the Web technology expanded to the university communities and then to society at large. So, for these morons to be arguing against the funding of science with public money – and to make the argument on the Internet/Web – is both hilarious & sad at the same time. Without realizing it, they are showing their hypocrisy for all to see!

In closing, I am pleased to see that it seems we are entering a time where science & our scientific institutions are being respected once again. It’s just a shame that some people still don’t get it.

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