Hot for Hillary in Madison

I just went to my first political rally today. Senator Hillary Clinton made it through the Wisconsin storms to finally host a rally in Madison. The presentation was good, and the spirits of the attendees were up. Just in case there was an opportunity for questions, I prepared one about science policy. It was a long shot, but there was no space for it. I did, however, have my iRiver along, and recorded the talk. Download and listen to it here. (It has also been added to the Mindcast Extras.)

I have a few pictures, but I don’t have the time to edit them tonight. Ariela and I waded up to the front at the end, to shake hands and get close-up pictures, but they left before we were up there. I got a couple good shots of Chelsea Clinton, and Hillary was in the corner of one of them.

Hillary said a few brief things related to science, such as energy independence and global warming. But not enough attention is being paid to it. ScienceDebate2008 hopes to change that.

Politically and socially I would be happy with either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Their health care positions are similar, their approach to the Iraq War are similar, and they would both be a “first” president of one kind or another. I suspect that their equal popularity will put them on the same party ticket anyway. Then they will be unbeatable.

There is some promise that science will be a part of the discussion. Both campaigns sent representatives to the recent AAAS meeting to talk about science policy, and Sheril Kirshenbaum at The Intersection reports that the Clinton campaign was better prepared and more specific about science and technology policy.

The good news is that both reps highlighted large increases in funding for basic research. Unfortunately, neither provided any practical blueprint for how this might be accomplished. Actually, at times the forum reminded me of a Jr. High School campaign speech–chock full of promises for more soda machines and longer lunch periods with no sense of how to follow through. Both sides criticized the Bush administration, but made little distinction between their science policy platforms.

On Clinton’s behalf, Kalil arrived with prepared slides and assured us she plans to restore the role of the president’s science advisor and bring back the Office of Technology Assessment. He cited Hillary’s demonstrated commitment to science and her intention to double research spending over the next decade to benefit NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, and the Pentagon.

Curiously, Obama’s side called for the same increase in only 5 years without naming which agencies would benefit or how it could be accomplished.

The Clinton campaign has made it clear that they intend to double the budget of the NSF and other agencies, and restore the Office of Science & Technology Assessment. The former is a great start, and the latter is a basic necessity. If we don’t want our country to slip into dependence upon the technological developments made in other countries (stem cells, energy efficiency, biofuels…) and the condition of the planet itself, we need to be paying more attention to science.

The Obama campaign, however, was very nonspecific – calling for increases in “basic science.” Then they turned right around and said:

We want “science not just for the sake of science.”

Um, actually, that’s kind of what “basic science” is. You investigate interesting phenomena and see where it leads. Science for the sake of science is part of what basic science is. Maybe they mean they want more science with a specific purpose (biofuels?) which we call applied science, but that would go against something else they said: “We are going to restore science policy to science and scientists.”

So at this point, I don’t know what would really distinguish Obama’s plans (if there are any) for Science & Technology Policy from Clinton’s, and I can’t find anything that suggests that it is better. Yes, they pledged to double the funding of “basic science” in half the time that the Clinton campaign proposed, but notice how they didn’t say to double the total funding, but the funding for this basic science thing that I can’t seem to pin down about them.

Hopefully, we can get some clarity on these issues, and having a debate in April with the candidates themselves will force them to give specifics and allow journalists to pick apart their proposals. After all, how can you compare and contrast when they’re not saying anything about it?

No Republicans were in attendance. McCain seemed to regret not showing up, but Huckabee didn’t respond at all. Forget science? Forget Huckabee – the man can’t square with the fact that those creatures on the other side of the bars at the zoo are related to him, and it shows. Count his chromosomes, man. How do we know heeven has 46 (and not 48 like Koko the Gorilla)?

Greg Laden seems to think, therefore, that the science debate is dead in the water without Republicans attending the last-minute AAAS debate. I disagree, because I think McCain thinks that he could fare well in such a debate, given that he is not in rank-and-file with the Republican Party’s stance on global warming. He realizes it is a problem and wants to do something about it. He may have declined the AAAS invitation so as to not cause an intra-party uprising against him before the primary is over, lest they go “wait, he was serious about that global warming stuff?” Then again, it was short notice.

So tomorrow (Tuesday), I’ll be voting in the Wisconsin primary election, and voting for Hillary Clinton. She was quicker than Obama to speak out on science policy, and Obama’s plans seem to be cheap knockoffs of her own pronouncements. Plus, she keeps sending me these steamy emails. Check out the title of one of the latest ones:

You touched my heart

Dear Karl,

I will never, ever forget how you were there for me when I needed you the most. When you learned that my… (sorry it gets NSFW after that)

I guess this primary election I’m Hot for Hillary.

Update Tuesday 11am: We put a Hillary sign on our door last night, and when I went out this morning, I let out a laugh – Our neighbors put up a sign for Mike Huckabee!

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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.