Update, Sept. 6: Both candidates have now answered all 14 questions.

 

[skipwords]The 2012 U.S. presidential campaign is already at a full boil, but its laser focus on the economy has left most scientific and environmental issues simmering on the back burner. That needs to change, according to a new report by some of the country's top science organizations, which have compiled a list of the 14 "most important science policy questions" that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney need to answer.

 

Organized by nonprofit group ScienceDebate.org, this coalition of U.S. scientists argues that because "science now affects every aspect of modern life," presidential candidates should publicize their science policies earlier in a campaign.

 

"This should be a no-brainer at this point," ScienceDebate CEO Shawn Lawrence Otto said in a statement Thursday. "Candidates debate the economy even though they are not economists, foreign policy even though they're not diplomats or generals, and faith and values even though they are not priests or pastors. They should also be debating the big science questions that have equal or greater impact on voters' lives."

 

To figure out what those big science questions are, ScienceDebate says it asked "thousands of scientists, engineers and other supporters" to submit questions online for a potential debate among the leading presidential candidates. It then recruited a dream team of 15 U.S. science organizations to help it whittle those questions down to a "fair and nonpartisan list." The result, according to Otto, is a nearly unanimous account of what America's scientific and environmental priorities should be.

 

"The fact that these diverse science organizations came to a universal consensus shows just how important they feel it is that Americans — and the candidates for president — pay attention to these critical problems," he says. The full list of questions is available at ScienceDebate.org, but here's a quick, paraphrased overview:

 

1. Innovation and economics: Science and technology have fueled more than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II, but studies suggest that may be changing. What policies will best ensure America remains a world leader in innovation?

 

2. Climate change: What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes and other policies to address global warming? What steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

 

3. Research and the future: Many other countries are making big investments in scientific research, but since the next U.S. Congress will inevitably have to curb spending, how would you prioritize research projects in your budget proposals?

 

4. Pandemics and biosecurity: In an era of constant and rapid international travel, what steps should the U.S. take to protect its population from emerging diseases, global pandemics and/or deliberate biological attacks?

 

5. Education: Why do you think U.S. students have fallen behind in science, math, technology and engineering over the last three decades? What role should the federal government play to better prepare students for the global economy?

 

6. Energy: What policies would you support to meet America's high demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

 

7. Food: America has the world's most diverse and productive agricultural sector, but many Americans are increasingly worried about potential dangers like hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and animal diseases. What steps would you take to ensure the health, safety and productivity of America's food supply?

 

8. Freshwater: Less than 1 percent of Earth's H2O is liquid freshwater, and much of that is now threatened by overconsumption, evaporation and pollution. What steps, if any, should the U.S. take to secure clean, abundant freshwater for all Americans?

 

9. Internet: The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society. What steps, if any, should the federal government take to manage the Web and ensure its robust social, scientific and economic role?

 

10. Oceans: Most global fisheries are in decline, key habitats like coral reefs are at risk and ocean pollution is rampant. How can the U.S. use domestic and foreign policy to protect the oceans' environmental and economic vitality?

 

11. Science in public policy: 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?

 

12. Space: The U.S. is in a major discussion over our national goals in space. What should America's space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century, and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?

 

13. Natural resources: Supply shortages of natural resources affect economic growth, quality of life and national security. What steps should the federal government take to ensure the quality and availability of critical natural resources?

 

14. Vaccines and public health: Vaccination campaigns against preventable diseases rely on high participation to be effective, but vaccination rates have fallen sharply in some communities. What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and when should exemptions be allowed?

 

ScienceDebate has asked the Obama and Romney campaigns to address these questions by mid-August, Otto noted Thursday in the Huffington Post.

 

Update, Sept. 6: Both candidates have now answered all 14 questions.

 

* In addition to ScienceDebate, the following groups contributed to the project: the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geosciences Institute, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society of Chemical Engineering, the Council on Competitiveness, the U.S. Institute of Electricians and Electronics Engineers, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.[/skipwords]

 

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