Did Science Debate 2008 Die in Boston? We wanted w00t, they gave us m00t.

Science Debate 2008 always was a liberal, Democratic Party leaning effort, but it might be the case that it has now become a perfectly partisan past time with no further relevance. I hope not, but I fear this may be true.

Science debate 2008 is an effort by a number of scientists and friends of scientists to get the presidential candidates to engage i a meaningful debate about science. This came to partial realization at the AAAS meetings in Boston, when a representative of the Clinton and Obama campaigns agreed to engage in a joint presentation and Q&A about science issues. Of course, while in some ways I'm glad this happened, I have to say that I'm not as giddy about it as Sheril R. Kirshenbaum:

Many said it would never happen so call February 16, 2008 'historic' because there's been a science debate here in Boston at AAAS (the largest science conference on the planet) between the presidential campaigns!


Maybe. But it also could be argued that this is not historic other than in the footnote sense. If there really is a meaningful Science Debate 2008, it will have to be between the Democrats and the Republicans. That is the point of this debate. That is why I and I would guess many others signed on to support this. If this is a first step towards that, then this conversation in Boston will be, at the footnote level, historic because it was one of the baby steps towards programmatic greatness.

It is also possible that the Boston Debate was a very, very bad idea. It might be historic in that it is the event in the Science Debate 2008 movement that mooted the effort.

The ultimate long term goal has to be to get the candidates for president (not potential nominees in only the science - sympathetic party) to engage in a debate, and to make such engagement routine for every election. This is so that the Republican (or anyone else's) evil agendas can be exposed and ridiculed for what they are. Rather than hearing at the last second that The President is going to make illegal (as opposed to simply not fund) major areas of Life Science research, and that the US has suddenly adopted an aggressive pro-nuclear program (as we heard in the State of the Union Address) we want to have both parties engaged in regular and continuous open debate about actual scientific issues and related policy.

(Mainly about the policy, but the issues need to be on the table.)

The Boston Debate may have solidified the idea of a science debate as a Democratic Strategy to make the Republicans look like the Head Up Their Assess Morons that they are. Now that the Boston Debate between Obama and Clinton has happened, and is being framed as a great success leading us towards a greater goal (Science Debate 2008), I think the project may be sunk ... dead in the water.

The best Science Debate 2008 can do now, as a movement, is to be a small partisan special interest group.

Premature exuberant framing in the service of self interest. Sadly, that is what this is, and I'm not kidding.

Here on Science Blogs we see one face of Science Debate 2008. On the web site, we see another. In other media outlets we see others. The truth is that Science Debate 2008 is a collective effort with many different individuals involved, and I think they are all well meaning, and I fully agree with and support the idea. But when we see the promotion of the event, including the "framing" of the event, we often see only a subset of those individuals, very clearly competing with each other for credit and fame, and it is hard to understand the full range of collective action that is going on.

Individuals pushing SD '08 are also pushing themselves, and often foregrounding their own role in this movement. If you try to get a picture of who thought this up, how it has developed over recent months, and so on, you may get one picture if you read The Intersection, and another if you read SB 2008's web site, and another picture if you listen to the Science Friday show on this a few weeks back, for instance.

This is of no consequence, usually. Movements are like this. Egos and ambition drive the process along side of people truly wanting to do the right thing and people trying to contribute usefully to a better world. It is all mixed up together, and these are strong forces that can help a movement get off the ground.

But it can also cause burps and glitches, and sometimes derailment. Many movements have gone by the wayside because of personality conflicts or ego. I don't see that happening overtly with SB08 at this point, and that is good. But I do think the Rush To Debate in Boston may be an example of a decision that was not well thought out for its political implications. If this is widely publicized and then perceived as a really, substantive first step, then Science Debate 2008 has simply, and permanently, become a partisan issue.

/End movement.
/Be sad.

More like this

Sad to read this. I agree the Boston "thing" seemed to come out of the blue and may detract more than contribute towards the real objective.

Still, there is time left to correct course. If McCain wants to beat Obama in moderate Republicans' and independent minds, he may well be interested in a science & tech debate, where he could wrap himself in a Sputnik-like banner.

Better than p00t!


By El Christador (not verified) on 20 Feb 2008 #permalink