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Presidential contenders finally answer science questions

The two presidential candidates—incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and his opponent Republican Mitt Romney—have provided long-awaited answers to 14 science-related questions posed by a group of science organisations collectively known as Sciecendebate2012.

Their responses, published in Scientific American on 4 September, provide significant insight into the respective science policies of the two rivals.

In his response, Obama reiterated his commitment to double funding for key research agencies to support scientists and entrepreneurs. Although Romney made no such commitment, he did say continued federal funding of research would be a top priority in his budget. However, Romney also declared that the private sector is “far more effective at pursuing and applying innovation than government could ever be.”

In addition, the candidate criticised Obama for his “misguided attempts” to “play the role of venture capitalist, pick winners and losers, and spend tens of billions of dollars on politically-prioritised investments have been a disaster for the American taxpayer.” Instead, Romney said his administration would focus government resources on research programmes that “advance the development of knowledge, and on technologies with widespread application and potential to serve as the foundation for private sector innovation and commercialisation.”

On the controversial topic of climate change, Obama said the problem can best be tackled with policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. He pledged to continue efforts to reduce US dependence on oil and lower the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, Romney said his best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, and that human activity contributes to that warming. But he stated that “there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue,” including the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk. “I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.”