Surrogate Science Debate

The candidates weren’t there, but their representatives were. They attended the yearly AAAS meeting to focus on science and technology issues. For Clinton, Thomas Kalil her campaign advisor for science (and former deputy assistant to the president for technology and economic policy for the Clinton administration). For Obama, Alec Ross, Obama campaign’s adviser on technology, media and telecommunications. “Ross is also executive vice president for external affairs and co-founder of One Economy Corp., a nonprofit group that has helped extend broadband networks to low-income neighborhoods.”

The Clinton position:

Kalil started out with a PowerPoint presentation outlining Clinton’s platform on science and technology: Spending on federal research would be doubled over the course of 10 years. Tax credits for research and experimentation would become permanent. Tuition tax credits and research fellowships would be expanded.He said Clinton endorsed the creation of a research agency for energy technology, an upgrade for the post of science adviser, and the restoration of the Office of Technology Assessment. Kalil said Clinton would “restore integrity to science policy” – referring back to past cases in which the Bush administration was accused of bending scientific findings to fit political positions.

The Obama platform:

Ross had no computer presentation. Instead, he referred his listeners to the Obama campaign’s Web site, saying that “what we have is an extraordinary amount of specific detail.” Among the high points: Federal money for basic research would be doubled in five years’ time. A nationwide interoperable wireless network would be created for emergency services, finally following through on a 9/11 commission recommendation.Obama would call for $10 billion per year to be spent on a five-year transition to electronic medical recordkeeping, and $150 billion to be spent over 10 years to promote biofuels, plug-in hybrid cars and other emerging energy technologies. A clean-technology venture capital fund would be set up with $10 billion to invest annually for five years. The money collected for the telecom industry’s Universal Service Fund would go exclusively to extending advanced broadband networks rather than funding “yesterday’s technology.”

And they differ on manned space missions.

The two aides came the closest to drawing an actual contrast when it came to space policy – specifically, NASA’s $104 billion plan to retire the shuttle fleet and return to the moon in a new type of spaceship. Kalil said Clinton believes that “it’s necessary to maintain an emphasis on human exploration as part of the NASA program, but she also believes that we need to have support for the Earth sciences program,” particularly for studying climate change.In the past, the Obama campaign has hinted that the moon effort might be put on hold to help fund education programs, and last month the SpaceRef Web site passed along a more detailed statement on space policy, attributed to the campaign. But Ross played it coy on Saturday.

“I’m not allowed to scoop anything, but anticipate some specific policies on NASA and specific to space exploration in the next month,” Ross said. He did hint that climate research might play a bigger role in the Obama administration’s NASA – and that the Bush administration’s vision might be in for revision.

Ross said that when President Bush announced the moon program, just over four years ago, Obama “responded at the time with skepticism, and I think that skepticism has been validated in the time since.”

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