McClatchy reports: Americans have trouble dealing with science, and one place that’s especially obvious is in presidential campaigns, says Shawn Lawrence Otto, who tried, with limited success, to get the candidates to debate scientific questions in the 2008 presidential election. Otto is the author of a new book, “Fool me twice: Fighting the assault on science in America,” which opens with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” And if the people and their leaders aren’t well informed and don’t use scientific information to solve modern problems, Otto suggests, the United States could soon skid into decline. “Without the mooring provided by the well-informed opinion of the people, governments may become paralyzed or, worse, corrupted by powerful interests seeking to oppress and enslave,” he writes. Today, he adds, Congress seems paralyzed and “ideology and rhetoric increasingly guide policy discussion, often bearing little relationship to factual reality.” In 2008, Otto and a group of other writers tried to organize a presidential debate on science issues. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain was interested. In the end, the two candidates agreed to respond to 14 questions in writing, and Otto’s group posted them on its ScienceDebate.org website. Otto said the group plans to try for another science debate in 2012. Reporters play a role in whether science is discussed in campaigns. A League of Conservation Voters analysis in early 2008 found that prime-time TV journalists asked 2,975 questions in 171 interviews. Only six questions were about climate change, “and the same could be said of any one of several major policy topoics surrounding science,” Otto writes in the book.
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