Guest commentary: Science, tech questions for 13th District candidates
By Kevin Pitts
If you look at the major issues being discussed in this election year — the economy, jobs, energy, health care, education and foreign relations — you find that every single issue has an important scientific component. Voters in central Illinois care about how we can produce jobs and stimulate the economy through scientific innovation, the role of wind power and ethanol in our national energy strategy, and strengthening the math and science skills of our students. With science underpinning so many issues important to voters, we need to hear about the positions of 13th Congressional District candidates Rodney Davis and David Gill on these issues.
Below are a few questions for the candidates. Some are from ScienceDebate.org, a nonpartisan group that has been trying to raise the level of discussion on science and technology issues in the presidential and congressional races.
— Innovation and the economy. Since World War II, when the United States government began a formal program to invest in science and technology research, more than half of our economic growth can be directly traced to technological innovation. A number of recent reports show America's leadership in science and technology is in rapid decline. What policies do you advocate to re-establish the U.S. leadership in science and technology that is urgently needed to reinitiate economic growth?
— Education. As the global economy continues to be driven by science and technology, American students lag behind the rest of the world in science and math rankings. What issues do you see that are causing American students to fall further behind the rest of the world? What policies do you advocate to improve our educational system and better prepare students to compete in the 21st-century global economy? Are you aware of any specific success stories in central Illinois?
— Energy. Energy costs, energy availability, climate change and geopolitical issues are all important considerations in developing a comprehensive energy strategy. Many candidates have offered a goal of "energy independence." What energy policies do you advocate? What specific forms of energy are relevant to your district and what can be done to further develop these energy sources? If you advocate an energy independence deadline, please explain the path you foresee for reaching this goal.
— Deficit reduction. Our economy faces long-run concerns on the size of the federal debt and annual deficits. Do you advocate federal budget reductions in research and development? What areas of federal scientific research and development would you cut and which areas would you preserve or enhance? What role can the government play in stimulating research and development in the private sector?
— Climate change. Although some, including the media, prefer to portray climate change as a controversial issue, the consensus within the scientific community is overwhelming. What is your position on the scientific consensus regarding climate change? What policies do you advocate to deal with the effects of climate change? What steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?
— Science in public policy. Science and technology are becoming more intertwined with public policy all the time. As an example, scientific understanding of uranium separation and nuclear power is necessary to assess the threat from Iran's atomic program. In this day and age, it is absolutely crucial that policymakers be well-informed on issues related to science and technology. 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? Whom do you currently receive advice from on issues related to science and technology?
The issues listed above are extremely important to our nation and our congressional district. I hope that candidates Davis and Gill will respond to these questions so that voters can assess their positions on these issues.
Kevin Pitts is a professor of physics at the University of Illinois.