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November 2012 Briefing Memo



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SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
• Breakthroughs in science, engineering and technology are critical to our nation’s competitive edge. ScienceDebate.org and SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN asked the presidential candidates, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, to weigh in on 14 science questions. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN asked its readers and board of advisers to help score the responses from each candidate (out of a five-point scale: one being the lowest, and five being the highest). In general, Obama scored higher than Romney on nine of the questions, while Romney scored better on one question (pandemics and biosecurity).

  ROMNEY OBAMA
ENERGY Score (1) wants “energy independence,” which may be a bipartisan pipe dream. Score (2) fails to outline future oil and gas development policies; highlights first-term achievements in support for green energy and “safe, responsible development” of natural gas.
INNOVATIONS AND THE ECONOMY (4) proposes raising visa cap on highly skilled foreign workers, promoting free-trade agreements and introducing a strong tax credit for R&D spending. (4) suggests doubling funding for key research agencies; sets a goal of preparing 100,000 science and math teachers in 10 years.
CLIMATE CHANGE (1) confirms human activity causes climate change but inaccurately cites scientific data on the severity of the impact; correctly states that this is a global problem but does not address how to work with other nations to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. (3) notes climate change is a challenge and cites ways his administration has attempted to address it; response is vague about the U.S.’s role in international efforts, as well as future policies.
THE INTERNET (0) celebrates the Internet but shows incorrect understanding of internet liberty and security issues, such as network neutrality, the very principle that has kept the Internet so dynamic and open. (3) addresses cybersecurity and civil liberty issues; does not give specific recommendations.
PANDEMICS AND BIOSECURITY (4) argues for continued investment in public health and research; does not give specifics on ensuring safety and efficacy of medical innovations. (3) notes the dangers of diseases entering the U.S. and that his administration is working with the private sector to address this; does not provide specifics on addressing a pandemic or biological attack.

See: America's Science Problem

ECONOMY
Unless we invest in an economy built on scientific and technological skills, we will not pull through our economic troubles. Germany ensures its economic success via partnerships between research institutes and industrial manufacturers. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have not spoken about pursuing a grander vision along those lines. Half of U.S. economic growth since World War II has come from advances in science and technology, such as the Pentagon’s project that eventually became the Internet. See: Science Agenda: Future Jobs Depend on a Science-Based Economy

GLOBAL WARMING
New data indicate that keeping planetary warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit may not be enough to avoid rapid climate change. Sea ice and permafrost are melting faster than predicted. The effects of these changes include meltwater altering ocean circulation, melting permafrost releasing carbon dioxide and methane, and ice disappearing worldwide. Such feedbacks could themselves accelerate warming, alter weather by changing the jet stream, magnify insect infestations and spawn more and larger wildfires. See: Environment: Global Warming: Faster than Expected?

GENETICS
Single genes do not influence complex behaviors such as voting, according to Evan Charney of Duke University and William English of Harvard University. Research provides growing evidence that genetic influences on human behavior involve thousands of different genes. See: The Voting Gene

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