In an editorial at this week's Science, editor Donald Kennedy raises concerns that religion has come to dominate the presidential race and argues that instead science should have an equal if not more prominent place on the election agenda. This week's issue of Science features statements on science policy by most of the major presidential candidates. Here's how Kennedy ends his editorial:
Given this new focus on religious disclosure, what does this U.S. election have to do with science? Everything. The candidates should be asked hard questions about science policy, including questions about how those positions reflect belief. What is your view about stem cell research, and does it relate to a view of the time at which human life begins? Have you examined the scientific evidence regarding the age of Earth? Can the process of organic evolution lead to the production of new species, and how? Are you able to look at data on past climates in search of inferences about the future of climate change?
Especially because we are in a new era of faith advertisement, we should demand that candidates provide thoughtful answers to such scientific questions. That religion has entered the political space should not produce a conflict between science and religion. Some of my scientist friends are religiously committed, others are actively disengaged, and both kinds are principled. Most of them are disinclined to join the religion versus science debate, which has become uncomfortably combustible.
But we share a right to press candidates about their views on the boundary. After all, determined efforts have been made to introduce scriptural versions of the age of Earth or of "intelligent design" in science classrooms. We need to know the candidates' qualifications for understanding and judging science, and for speaking intelligently about science and technology to the leaders of other nations in planning our collective global future. I don't need them to describe their faith; that's their business and not mine. But I do care about their scientific knowledge and how it will inform their leadership.