I Vote for Science!

The 2006 US elections are just about here, and gizmo looks almost as stressed over it as I am. Maybe we should both cut back on the coffee for a bit.

“I vote for justice!” is the battle cry of SuffraJet, a rocket propelled, equal voting rights advocate and member of the Decency Squad, from the too-short-lived cartoon The Tick. I assume everyone who goes to the polls this Tuesday is voting for justice, at least their own interpretation of it. We could argue all day over how to vote for justice, so my battle cry is “I vote for science!”

I had hoped that the newly established, nonprofit Scientists and Engineers for America (geez, don’t you hate those vague “up with goodness” organization titles that seem mandatory these days) could help me by compiling information about candidate positions on science issues. But as you can see for yourself, their page listing key races is blank. So I had to figure it out all on my own.

I’m nonpartisan and registered independent, but it’s pretty clear this year when you look at important science issues that a vote for science is likely to be a vote for a Democrat. In Maryland, where I live, Michael Steele(Republican) is only in support of stem cell research that doesn’t destroy an embryo, while Ben Cardin(Democrat) supports stem cell research in general.

OK, it’s only one issue, and the positions of the candidates are nuanced enough that voting for science in this case is not so clear. But if you look at the record of the Republican congress and administration over the past six years, a vote for the GOP is a vote against rational science. The best way I see to change course is to change congress. Although I like Steele for lots of reasons, I’m voting against him to get his party out of power. I hope the Democrats can do a better job on science in the US.

In case you’re wondering which issues matter the most to me, here’s a partial list.

Space-based science: We are spending WAY too much money sending humans to space as part of the administration’s agenda to put people on Mars. Robotic probes do a fine job exploring space for a hundreth the cost of risking humans. The International Space Station in particular is a waste of hundreds of billions of dollars with no sign of ever giving us interesting or valuable data. Let’s cancel the trip to Mars and keep sending probes into space instead.

Stem cell research: I’m for it, with as few restrictions as possible. I’m an athiest, so I’m not distracted by questions of embryo souls and such superstition. When you rely on rational thought rather than primitive mythology, it’s easy to support stem cell research.

Intelligent Design: The president expressed his support of teaching “both sides” of the debate over evolution. The fact is, there is hardly another side to the debate – there’s the scientifically accepted theory of natural selection, and there’s (barely) a handful of intelligent design supporters who are really out to teach religion in science class. I’m pretty sure someone just caught the president off guard with the question about teaching the alternatives. But the Republican party seems more inclined than the Democrats to support the psuedoscience of creationism and intelligent design.

Education: Rewarding the best performers and punishing the under-achievers is a great way to operate a free market, but an awful and irresponsible and short-sighted way to raise our children. No Child Left Behind leaves all sorts of kids behind, if they happen to live in lower tier school districts that will lose ground every year with this policy.

I am also concerned with our current energy, environmental conservation, higher education funding, and other policies that have gone awry in the past six years.

The bottom line – I’m voting for justice (i.e. science and Democrats) this year.

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