Sunday, August 31, 2008

Barack Obama Answers Science Questions

 
An organization called Science Debate 2008 has crafted 14 questions about science for the US Presidential candidates. Barack Obama has submitted his answers [Presidential answers to the top 14 science questions facing America].
1. Innovation. Science and technology have been responsible for half of the growth of the American economy since WWII. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will you support to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation?

... My administration will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade. We will increase research grants for early-career researchers to keep young scientists entering these fields. We will increase support for high-risk, high-payoff research portfolios at our science agencies. And we will invest in the breakthrough research we need to meet our energy challenges and to transform our defense programs.
I'm a little confused about how the American system of government works. I think the answer means the following: "My administration will submit to Congress a proposal to increase funding ..." Is that correct? Is it just campaign rhetoric when a Presidential candidate talks like this or does the President really have more power to make laws than I imagine?

The second part of his answer suggests that the office of the President will somehow influence the granting agencies to direct more of their funds to early-career researchers and to "high-risk, high-payoff" grant applications. Can the White House make NIH, for example, distribute money differently or does that require legislation to enact?

I don't think anyone believes that Barack Obama wrote these answers, although I'm certain that he approved them. It would be interesting to know who did write the response and how much influence that person(s) will have if Obama wins the election in November. Does anyone know who his advisers are?

The answers don't seem to be much different than those I would have expected from most other Democratic candidates, or from John Kerry in 2004, or Al Gore in 2000. Am I missing something or is there some radical change in the way things are going to be done in Washington that escapes me?1


1. Doubling of research funding in 10 years means a yearly increase of 8%. While this is better than an increase that doesn't match inflation, it doesn't strike me as a very radical proposal to fix the funding situation.

[Hat Tip: Jim Lippard]

15 comments :

  1. I think the answer means the following: "My administration will submit to Congress a proposal to increase funding ..." Is that correct?

    Yes. Depending on how politically popular the president is, the state of the economy and numerous other factors, that funding may be passed at the president's request (with numeous other funding projects popular with congressional members tacked on).

    Can the White House make NIH, for example, distribute money differently or does that require legislation to enact?

    The answer can be complex. Some spending may be specifically required by the funding legislation, while other money is discretionary to the Agency, which is a part of the executive branch and is under the control of the president.

    Is it just campaign rhetoric

    Oh, yes, most certainly.

    Am I missing something or is there some radical change in the way things are going to be done in Washington that escapes me?

    No.

    Frankly, anyone who thinks otherwise is engaged in magical thinking.

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  2. Thanks for your response, John. How come so many of our friends seem to think that there will be big changes in Washington if Obama wins? Those friends aren't normally the type to fall for "magical thinking."

    Have they temporarily lost their senses?

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  3. I'm a little confused about how the American system of government works. I think the answer means the following: "My administration will submit to Congress a proposal to increase funding ..." Is that correct?

    Yes. The "proposal" in question is the annual budget of the United States. The initial draft comes from the President, gets worked over by the congress, and eventually signed into law by the President.

    The second part of his answer suggests that the office of the President will somehow influence the granting agencies to direct more of their funds to early-career researchers and to "high-risk, high-payoff" grant applications. Can the White House make NIH, for example, distribute money differently or does that require legislation to enact?

    Yes. The President can make the NIH do whatever he wants, either by direct executive order, as happened with forbidding federal funding to research with non-designated human embryonic stem cell lines, or indirectly by installation of an NIH director (subject to confirmation by the senate) sympathetic to the President's goals.

    Is it just campaign rhetoric when a Presidential candidate talks like this or does the President really have more power to make laws than I imagine?

    It's not just rhetoric. The de facto powers of the American presidency have expanded tremendously since they were initially drafted.

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  4. This is so Typical of Obamanation Voters,
    Obama Campaign calling the kettle Black,,,
    Sarah Palin has Has Just as much experiance as Barack Obama if not more so,, Obama has NO Experiance and riding on the Coat tiles of the black Nomination,, There is no way Thay can put her down,, Say she Not experiance because,,Then Barack Obama will have to say since he have 0 experiance what make him so special,
    Attacking Her going to be like attacking him self,,

    This is going to be good, We finally have a woman to vote for,, I voted for Hillary and like I said I voting for McCain, now that he picked a woman,, more woman voter are voting for her,,,
    Sarah Palin will be a great VP,, anyone who says other wise, will have a lot of explaining to do,, Because,, Barack Has NO experiance and he thinks he could be President!!!!!

    And Barack Speech was the same old speech he gives Everyone wants change Why don’t someone tell Barack Time to get an Agenda, Time to change his speech’s he been singing,, getting old,
    But then again Only Barack thinks everyone should vote for him
    No matter what criminals he had with him,, Ryzko , Who got barack his House,, and Like always,, barack bringing up McCain Houses, how dumb again, calling the kettle black again,, 2 people Rich People,,,1 worth 4 million and the other worth 400 million,, Gee to me and every other middle class in america Rich is rich,, so barack want to get into a pissing match over Houses,, instead of telling the people what he going to do,, He done Nothing every news Media knows he adopted Hillary campaign, Pelosi and Dean And Barack Obama are making Hillary Unite this party ,, Barack Obama won the Primary so why is it up to Hillary to unite this party,, Why are they asking Her,is this all she can do,, it not up to her,, Its up to Barack Obama,, What we have Here is Bush Tactics, they are going to do all they can to fraud and Hi-Jack this Campaign, and rig the election, like they did with Hillary,, they way they gave Obama florida and Michigan even tho Hillary won those fair and Square ,,no Barack wants half after the fact,,,

    Well I am glad Hillary is not the vp for barack now she can run in 2012, against McCain ,,,and she can be the first Woman President, But right Now Sarah Palin going to be the First Woman Vice President, who has Just as much experiance as Barack Obama,, McCain Made a great choice,

    I guess That greek temple of a joke stage barack made for his speech is the closest he going to get to the white house,,

    He Really thinks He is already President, Well at least I did go out and started using barack obama energy Plan I bought a TiRE GUAGE, ,, wow we are saving money Now,
    Don’t FOR Get BarackObama Seal,, He Stole from commander & Chief Seal, The Man is an EGO Maniacs,,, I am a Proud Democrat, I will not blindly vote for a Man who will Hurt this Country, I will not do it, If Hitler was a democrat , I have to vote for him,, ,NO way No How NO OBAMA

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  5. Those friends aren't normally the type to fall for "magical thinking."

    I have my doubts about that premise. They may just do it in different areas.

    It's not just rhetoric.

    Oh, it is certainly campaign rhetoric. Of course, part of campaign rhetoric is the necessity of delivering on some portion of that rhetoric -- those that aren't too difficult politically. In short, the implimentation of the rhetoric depends not on the promise of the politician but on the political reality.

    The de facto powers of the American presidency have expanded tremendously since they were initially drafted.

    In other words, there will be no radical change in the way things are going to be done in Washington. And it's doubtful, considering such things as the Alien and Sedition Acts, that the powers of our government ever worked as drafted.

    Well at least I did go out and started using barack obama energy Plan I bought a TiRE GUAGE, ,, wow we are saving money Now

    [Sigh] How much will we save now by offshore drilling (much less ever, given the additional costs, including potential clean-up)? Rational evaluation of a proposal always requires considering it against the alternative.

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  6. As PZ posted today,considerable unease should be raised about the associations of Governor Palin. Attached are 2 links, the first of which describes a whackjob organization calling itself Joels' Army, the second detailing the association between the so called army and the church to which Governor Palin belongs. As PZ puts it, be afraid, be very afraid.

    http://www.alternet.org/story/96945/theocratic_sect_prays_for_real_armageddon/?page=entire

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/8/29/163234/559/495/579213

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  7. Im pretty excited!

    The 'Teacher Service Scholarship' is a great idea. Go to a 'in need' area for a set amount of time, the gov pays for your school. Its worked for med students, why not math and science teachers?

    And other answers make it clear that Obama *supports* science instead of fear/manipulation/restraint of science (ie the genetics & stem cell answers). Even though I might have written some of the answers differently, I dunno-- I just find the answers comforting.

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  8. Larry- picking on obama! wow thats a suprise- especially knowing how you feel about people with lots of pigmentation

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  9. anonymous says,

    Larry- picking on obama! wow thats a suprise- especially knowing how you feel about people with lots of pigmentation

    Hmmm ... how in the world do you know anything about how I feel about blacks? Are you confused by the fact that I'm sick and tired of the hypocrisy (and stupidity) shown by people who pretend that races don't exist?

    Speaking of hypocrisy, I also don't like people who yak about "change" then don't deliver.

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  10. Actually, Obama frequently writes things like these himself (e. g., a long response to the blog Daily Kos, his own books, etc.)

    I honestly don't know if that is the case with these questions.

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  11. ollie says,

    Actually, Obama frequently writes things like these himself (e. g., a long response to the blog Daily Kos, his own books, etc.)

    I honestly don't know if that is the case with these questions.


    Are you being serious?

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  12. I expect that we will see substantial policy changes if Obama wins. His policies will likely be different than either GW Bush's or Bill Clinton's, although probably more similar to Clinton's.

    The mistake made by most people regarding every president, and alluded to by other poster's, is thinking that the president can do everything (s)he promises. That was GHWB's mistake with his "Read my lips..." promise.

    McCain has made promises to antievolutionist homophobic blastocyst worshipers like James Dobson that he has to keep to remain in power. Palin is an antievolutionist, homophobic blastocyst worshiper. Obama's pandering to the left-wing religious extremists is disturbing, particularly his support of faith-based initiatives, but at least he doesn't support people that believe that murdering adults is justified to protect blastocyts.

    McCain will certainly continue to pursue the corporatist agenda and supply-side economics that continue to be disastrous under GWB. His vice president will pour even more religious insanity into the federal agencies than GWB, assuming that McCain lets her. Given his promises to the likes of Dobson, I expect he will do just that.

    At the risk of feeding the troll... Obama's experience as a first-term senator overwhelm's Palin's experience as the part-time mayor of a dinky town in a state with a minuscule population and as governor (in only her second year) of that state. Moreover, Obama's work prior to entering the Senate was relevant to the presidency. Anyone that thinks that Palin has the experience to be remotely competent as vice president is a grade-A moron. She is worse even than Dan Quayle.

    I have my doubts about Obama. But, IMO he is a far superior choice to McCain.

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  13. c-serpent says,

    I expect that we will see substantial policy changes if Obama wins.

    Just out of curiosity, what examples of "substantial policy changes" have you seen in the past 40 years?

    What are some examples of "substantial policy changes" that you expect to see if Obama is elected in November?

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  14. Just out of curiosity, what examples of "substantial policy changes" have you seen in the past 40 years?

    Establishment of the following NIH institutes:

    National Eye Institute (1968)
    National Human Genome Research Institute (1989)
    National Institute on Aging (1974)
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (1970)
    National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (1986)
    National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (2000)
    National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (1988)
    National Institute on Drug Abuse (1973)
    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (1969)
    National Institute of Nursing Research (1986)

    These each come with big money dedicated to funding research in their respective priority areas.

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  15. What are some examples of "substantial policy changes" that you expect to see if Obama is elected in November?

    The non-invasion of Iran.

    A diminution or even cessation of "prior restraint" internal censorship of the science content of government agencies' publications by politically appointed personnel from those agencies' PR offices (e.g., removal of statements supporting the scientific conclusion that anthropogenic global warming is occurring).

    Re Obama's power to effect the measures mentioned in his campaign's responses: This depends heavily on what sort of victory he achieves at the polls. If his numbers are good enough in enough states with Republican legislators, those legislators will fear the political consequences of voting against his proposals. This may result in giving Obama enough legislative support to be confident of enacting those proposals.

    I think it's perfectly understandable that the Obama campaign's responses would be based on the assumption that their man would be elected by enough of a margin to govern effectively, and I have to say I've never seen any presidential campaign find it necessary to make that assumption explicit. The voters don't want to hear that you're aware of the niceties of U.S. legislative procedure (though it might have been good to know Bush assumed neither the legislative nor judicial branches would be an impediment to anything he wanted to do), they want to know what they have to hope/fear should the candidate's legislative agenda come to pass.

    Finally, regarding how much of a hand Obama had in these responses: You'll find some of these proposals in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope, and virtually all of them on his campaign website. The ones that appeared in Audacity I'd imagine were his personally, and the rest I'm sure as you say he at least vetted.

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