Obama is for Science, We’re for Obama

[Edited to add Obama’s positions on NASA and Space Exploration]

Those of you who know me already know that I support Barack Obama for president. I’ve hesitated to post this here, due to the non-political nature of this blog. However, it is long past time for me to make the case for Obama and his policies on science and research. More after the cut on his key positions and why they are important.

Here are Obama’s key positions on science policy, with my commentary:

Restoring integrity to U.S. science policy to ensure that decisions that can be informed by science are made on the basis of the strongest possible evidence.

This is essential to any sane science policy. If we can learn more about an issue through evidence that has been scientifically validated, we will be much more effective in creating positive change. Science can inform policy in many ways, and this has not happened for 8 years, and wouldn’t happen under a McCain presidency.

Doubling over a 10 year period the federal investment in basic research by key science agencies, with a special emphasis on supporting young researchers at the beginning of their careers, and backing high-risk, high-return research.

High risk science has been at a standstill for decades as funding for science agencies has dried up. When funding is eliminated, funding agencies become more risk averse and focus funding on researchers who have already proved themselves. This often (but not always) leads to incremental improvements and a risk-averse environment for researchers who need to propose grants to fund new breakthroughs. Science is inherently risky, and no one knows what advances can be made. By increasing the ability of researchers to perform more risky, cutting edge research, we broaden our horizon of the possible with the dollars we spend.

Making a national commitment to science education and training by recruiting some of America’s best minds to teach K-12 math and science and by tripling the number of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowships.

As a computer scientist, I have no incentive to teach math or science to K-12 classrooms. I’m qualified to teach most of the math curriculum, any programming courses, or any basic science class. The people who do science are not teaching science to our children, which means that the quality of that education suffers, because teaching science in K-12 inevitably falls back on teaching “science facts”, rather than teaching students what falsifiability is, or how to set up an experiment with proper controls.

Also, the NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship is a program to fund graduate students for Masters and Doctoral studies in the sciences. I know people who are on this fellowship, and they are doing amazing work. We need more of them.

Encouraging American innovation to flourish by making the R&D tax credit permanent, streamlining our patent system, eliminating the capital gains tax on start-ups and small businesses, and promoting the deployment of next-generation broadband networks.

I used to run a small technology startup. We need more R&D in this country, it and basic science are the engines that drive our economy. We have seen the amazing advances we can make when we encourage innovation, and we have seen the collapses that occur when we rest on our laurals and don’t drive innovation forward.

Addressing the “grand challenges” of the 21st century through accelerating the transition to a low-carbon, oil-free economy, enabling all Americans to live longer and healthier lives, and protecting our country from emerging threats to our national security.

Our carbon impact could easily be one of the worst things that have ever happened to the planet, causing mass extinctions and untold damage to the world’s ecosystem. But it can also be one of our greatest triumphs. Almost since life began, oxidation of carbon = energy. By using petroleum we simply accellerated the pace of that equation. By switching to technologies that can directly harness the power of the sun and earth, using wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and renewable biofuels, we can “farm” energy rather than depending on “wild” depleted reserves. This can be done, but we need incentives to do this.

STRENGTHEN AMERICA’S LEADERSHIP IN SPACE SCIENCE

It is essential to maintain U.S. leadership in space.  President Bush set forth a bold mission for NASA, but failed to provide the leadership and funding to see it through.  As a result, in 2010, the United States will face a five-year gap in the ability to send astronauts to the International Space Station.  An Obama administration will restore America’s leadership in space science:

  • Establish a robust program for human and robotic exploration that preserves our space workforce, engages international allies and draws on expertise in the private sector.
  • Close the gap in NASA access to lower earth orbit and better utilize the International Space Station.
  • Strengthen NASA’s missions in space science, weather, climate research, and aeronautical research.
  • Develop a new generation of space vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle scheduled to retire in 2010.
  • Improve NASA’s educational outreach and programs that promote spin-off consumer technologies.

There’s a lot more to Obama’s science plan. It is very comprehensive and evidence-driven. He will listen to scientists to find out what science can answer, and to find out what is needed to get those answers. I encourage you to read his plan, available here. Please remember to vote!

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