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This article is from the In-Depth Report Election 2012: Grading Obama and Romney on Science
See Inside Scientific American Volume 307, Issue 5

Science in an Election Year

Scientific American rates the candidates' answers to 14 science questions

ROMNEY confirms a commitment to what may well be a bipartisan pipe dream: “energy independence.” After all, oil is sold in a global marketplace, and unless the U.S. were to withdraw from global oil markets, it is nearly impossible to imagine a scenario in which the country did not import oil. His recommendation would open up new areas to oil development, such as off the East Coast and in Florida. Romney gets credit for directness and completeness.

FOOD

Thanks to science and technology, the U.S. has the world's most productive and diverse agricultural sector. Yet many Americans are increasingly concerned about the health and safety of our food. The use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, as well as animal diseases and even terrorism, poses risks. What steps would you take to ensure the health, safety and productivity of America's food supply?

OBAMA outlines the steps his administration has already taken to ensure the integrity of the food supply, from much needed reform of the nation's food safety laws to cutting down on the use of pesticides and antibiotics by expanding organic operations. Unfortunately, antibiotic use is still widespread in meat production in the U.S. And he does not lay out an alternative vision for critical legislation governing food—such as the periodically renewed “farm bill.”

ROMNEY lauds the American agricultural system, from “farmers and ranchers” to “grocers and restaurants.” He promises that a “collaborative instead of combative relationship between regulators and businesses” will work to keep food safe. Yet he offers no evidence to support this assertion. Nor does he address the issues of hormones, antibiotics or pesticides.

FRESHWATER

Less than 1 percent of the world's water is liquid freshwater, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of U.S. and global freshwater is now at risk because of increasing consumption, evaporation and pollution. What steps, if any, should the federal government take to secure clean, abundant freshwater for all Americans?

OBAMA refers to his clean water policies and rural infrastructure investments, which are indeed positive actions. He does not refer to specific initiatives to improve the water efficiency of farming—by far the largest user of underground aquifers. The mountaintop-removal method of coal mining is also ruining streams at alarming rates, but he does not mention this fact. He also loses points for not acknowledging the magnitude of the problem.

ROMNEY does not offer a single, specific step to improve water quality or supply. His reply is evasive and implies that regulations are the only problem, stating that “communities and businesses must contend with excessively costly and inflexible approaches that impose unnecessary economic constraints and trigger inevitable litigation.”

THE INTERNET

The Internet is central to both our economy and our society. What part, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific and economic role?

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