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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

OBAMA'S anodyne answer hits all the right notes but falls short on specifics. He correctly worries about possible unintended effects of efforts to combat Internet piracy but gives no hints as to how he might satisfy both the concerns of Hollywood copyright holders and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Similarly, he gives a nod to the tension between cybersecurity and civil liberties but offers no specific policies to remedy the situation.

ROMNEY celebrates the Internet as a platform “open to all ideas and lawful commerce,” then proceeds to harshly criticize the very principle that has kept the Internet so dynamic and open: network neutrality, the idea that all data should be treated equally. He falsely asserts that network neutrality would pick “winners and losers in the marketplace and [determine] how consumers will receive access to tomorrow's new applications and services.” In fact, the opposite is true: network neutrality is essential for ensuring that fledgling Internet companies live and die on their merits and that cable companies and other large network service providers will not be able to block Internet-based services of which they disapprove.

OCEAN HEALTH

Scientists estimate that 75 percent of the world's fisheries are in serious decline, habitats such as coral reefs are threatened, and large areas of oceans and coastlines are polluted. What role should the federal government play, domestically and through foreign policy, to protect the environmental health and economic vitality of the oceans?

OBAMA addresses habitats and coastlines well but takes a pass on fisheries, other than to say his administration will monitor fishing stocks. He shows some scientific savvy by including the Great Lakes in “ocean health” because they are a similarly huge resource and may be in great trouble. U.S. ocean regulations are a mess, with dozens of agencies having varying jurisdictions, so streamlining is necessary. The National Ocean Policy is Obama's attempt to do that, and it has critics, but it is a start. Neither Obama nor Romney delves into the international aspect of ocean issues.

ROMNEY begins his answer by seeming to acknowledge that government has a role to play in protecting fisheries, despite his general stance against regulation. Yet he ended up saying the government should perform research and make it available—which it already does—and that his administration would listen to fishers' take on the issue. For Romney, protecting fisheries is a way to bolster the fishing industry, which is legitimate and much needed. His answer, however, gives no hint that he is aware of the large amount of data on ocean health that already exists or of its conclusions. He loses credit for that and for not addressing habitats and coastlines.

SCIENCE IN PUBLIC POLICY

We live in an era when science and technology affect every aspect of life and society and so must be included in well-informed public policy decisions. How will you ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are fully informed by the best available scientific and technical information and that the public is able to evaluate the basis of these policy decisions?

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