A Republican Nightmare: Science Group Demands 2016 Presidential ‘Science Debate’

Given how monumentally important scientific literacy is for anyone who hopes to lead America in the 21st Century, you would think holding a “science debate” alongside issues of foreign policy, social issues, and the economy is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, one half of the political spectrum seems to believe science isn’t observable facts based on data, and instead political opinions that come from your gut or the checkbook of the closest oil tycoon. As you can imagine, Republican candidates have historically opposed discussing science during elections at all costs. 2016 may change all that – and it will be a bloodbath.

A science advocacy group aptly called ScienceDebate hopes to force the hands of candidates and make them discuss their views on science. On its website, the group says the idea is to make candidates be held accountable for their science (or anti-science!) beliefs.

“The world has changed. Science now impacts every aspect of life, with major economic, environmental, health, legal, and moral implications. Shouldn’t the candidates for president be showing their leadership by debating these things on TV, so that voters can be better informed by coverage of them in the news media?”

If you live on the coastline of Florida, wouldn’t it be nice to know whether your president believes that as ice melts, water rises? Wouldn’t it influence your vote if you knew that Ted Cruz, for example, thinks that there is no data to suggest climate change is real?

A lot of people seem to think so. In fact, ScienceDebate has unveiled a petition to put pressure on candidates to sign a “pledge to hold a science debate” in 2016. At the time of this writing over 42,000 people have signed it – including “lawmakers, Nobel laureates, over 100 university presidents, and many organizations.” Celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, David Schwimmer, and intellectual celebrities like Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson have also signed.

And it may actually work. We know that if there is one thing that politicians listen to almost as much as money it’s popular opinion. Knowing that 42,000 people are demanding you engage them in your views on science is hard to ignore. It’s also overwhelmingly popular. In fact, even Republicans who reject things like climate change and evolution want to appear like they are scientifically minded. They certainly don’t mind bringing up scientific studies or findings if they believe they support something they believe in. If a new study came out tomorrow that demonstrated conclusively that the Earth wasn’t warming at all (it won’t), the GOP and their friends in the right-wing media would become the biggest fans of science in the world over night.

The problem lies in the fact that on almost every issue, Republicans would get creamed. This is the “I’m not a scientist, but…” party, after all. Browsing the selection of presidential hopefuls, it is immediately clear that any one of them would struggle to make sense or sound smart while being asked about carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere. (Although, Rick Perry does wear glasses now, so there’s that.)

It’s hard to say whether scientific ignorance could cost a particularly dimwitted candidate an election, but watching someone like Rick Santorum or Scott Walker struggle to articulate their laughably off-base views on the Theory of Evolution might move the needle just enough. It’s hard to get excited to vote for a person who seems like they couldn’t hack it at an elementary school science fair.

And if the debate needed a moderator, Democratic congressman, and one of Washington’s only scientist-politicians, Rep. Bill Foster already said he’d be glad to help.

Now that would be a debate worth tuning in for. In related news, President Obama has been busy having his mind blown by science.

Feature image via knowyourmeme.com