In a bid to trigger a televised debate, organizers of ScienceDebate 2008 have sent the US presidential candidates a series of questions about the role of science in the nation’s future. The questions come after the candidates twice ducked the opportunity to participate in a debate on science during the primary season.

The ScienceDebate organizers started with a list of 3,300 questions put forward by the group’s 38,0000 signatories. Working with 11 other organizations — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences — the group whittled down the list to 14.

“I remain convinced that we will see them debate these issues,” Matthew Chapman, president of ScienceDebate 2008, told “It’s one of those situations where the whole thing could suddenly lurch into place. What we really need is some support from mainstream media.”

‘Unresolved challenges’

According the ScienceDebate website, the 14 questions are designed to be “broad enough to allow wide variations in response, but specific enough to help guide the discussion towards many of the largest and unresolved challenges currently facing the US.” Shortened versions of the questions include:

  • To maintain a growing economy, how will you ensure the US remains the world leader in innovation?
  • Given spending constraints, how will you prioritize investment in basic research?
  • Is it acceptable for elected officials to hold back or alter scientific reports if they conflict with their own views, and how will you balance scientific information, politics and personal beliefs in your decision making?
  • What role do you think the federal government should play in preparing primary and secondary school students for science and technology in the 21st century?
  • How can science and technology be used best to ensure national security?
  • What is your position on the following measures that have been proposed to tackle climate change: a cap and trade system; a carbon tax; increased fuel-economy standards; or research?
  • How will you meet energy demands while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?
  • How would you prioritize different areas of space exploration?

The latest poll, conducted by lake Research Partners, shows that 72% of the US public is more likely to vote for presidential candidates that support scientific research. The poll also shows 87% of the US public is more likely to vote for candidates that will invest in scientific education, while 43% consider science to be “extremely important” in influencing policy decisions.