The Jan. 3 issue of Nature magazine opens with an editorial declaring that "Now is the time for the research community to catch the attention of the next president of the United States of America."
For it is now -- while candidates are striving to win their respective party nominations -- that their priorities, preferences and policy teams will be forged. Many researchers, of all political stripes, are deeply troubled by what they regard as the dysfunctional relationship between science and the outgoing Bush administration. There is a better chance of a more fruitful relationship arising next time round if scientists get involved early with the candidates, and with the energetic, nationwide public debate that already characterizes this most intense and open of primary seasons.
But what does this really mean? On the Democratic side of the ledger, as with so many other issues, the candidates have essentially indistinguishable views on the two litmus tests highlighted by Nature -- stem cell research and climate change. All the Democratic candidates are in favor of federal funding of stem cell research, and all of them support significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, usually via a cap-and-trade system.
They also all believe in evolution. So it's not clear that scientists really need to get their attention.
On the Republican side, you have the opposite, a veritable Cambrian explosion of biodiversity.
On stem cells, Huckabee and Thompson oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Giuliani and McCain support it. Ron Paul says it's a states' rights issue. Romney splits the difference: According to Nature's very useful breakdown of all the candidate positions, Romney "does not oppose the use of surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics" but "does not support federal funding for the research."
On climate change, McCain has been aggressive in pushing legislation to deal with global warming. Ron Paul and Fred Thompson believe there is no scientific consensus on the problem, but Thompson is in favor of "reasonable steps" to reduce emissions, while Paul is opposed to major government regulation. Giuliani and Thompson are opposed to raising mileage standards but Huckabee supports doing do and says it would be a "sin" to ruin the world for future generations.
In 2004 launched a plan to address global warming though at the time he questioned if it was happening. Pulled out of a New England emission plan (it was implemented by his successor.)
What a wonderful time to be a Republican! So much choice, so much diversity: a candidate for every position, and, in the case of Romney, a candidate who tries to hold every position simultaneously. One can wonder just how likely it is that scientists will be able to catch the "attention" of any of these men, but that's OK -- as a totally unpredictable laboratory experiment performed over the course of the primary season it certainly has caught ours.