Now that Senator John McCain has supplied his answers to the Science Debate 2008 questions, we can take a look at the similarities and differences between the two candidates on a topic that could determine the United States’ competitive and economic future in the next administration. We highlighted some of Senator Obama’s answers here earlier and all of the answers from both candidates can be found here. Previously in this space we have contrasted the technological agendas from each campaigns’ web site.
McCain specifically calls out information technology research and computer science as important in a few of his answers. McCain says that he wants to invest in basic and applied research particularly in new and emerging areas and in information technology and will “support significant increases in basic research” at the various federal agencies — but stopped short of saying he would fully fund the America COMPETES Act, in sharp contrast to Obama who has promised the doubling called for in that legislation. McCain also supports greater education efforts in science and math to fill the skilled jobs that are needed in an innovation economy. He particularly supports giving $250 million to states to increase participation in AP courses in math, sciences, and computer science by offering them virtually as well as supporting the STEM education programs at the various federal science agencies like DOE and NSF, a markedly different stance than the current administration.
Here are excerpts from McCain’s answers to the questions that are most relevant to the computing community:
Q1. Innovation. Science and technology have been responsible for half of the growth of the American economy since WWII. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will you support to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation?
“…America has led the world into this technology revolution because we have enabled innovation to take root, grow, and prosper. Nurturing technology and innovation is essential for solving the critical problems facing our country…”
“As President, I will —
Focus on addressing national needs to make the United States a leader in developing, deploying, and exporting new technologies;
Utilize the nation’s science and technology infrastructure to develop a framework for economic growth both domestically and globally;
Appoint a Science and Technology Advisor within the White House to ensure that the role of science and technology in policies is fully recognized and leveraged, that policies will be based upon sound science, and that the scientific integrity of federal research is restored;
Eliminate wasteful earmarks in order to allocate funds for science and technology investments;
Fund basic and applied research in new and emerging fields such as nanotechnology and biotechnology, and in greater breakthroughs in information technology;
Encourage and facilitate commercialization of new innovations, especially those created from federally funded research;
Grow public understanding and popularity of mathematics and science by reforming mathematics and science education in schools;
Develop and implement a global competitive agenda through a series of business roundtables with industry and academia leaders.”
Q4. Education. A comparison of 15-year-olds in 30 wealthy nations found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 17th, while average U.S. math scores ranked 24th. What role do you think the federal government should play in preparing K-12 students for the science and technology driven 21st Century?
“My Administration will promote economic policies that will spur economic growth and a focus on an innovative economy. Critical to these efforts is the creation of the best trained, best prepared workforce to drive this economy through the 21st century. America’s ability to compete in the global market is dependent on the availability of a skilled workforce. Less than 20 percent of our undergraduate students obtaining degrees in math or science, and the number of computer science majors have fallen by half over the last eight years. America must address these trends in education and training if it hopes to compete successfully.
But I believe that education is an ongoing process. Thus our nation’s education system should not only focus on graduating new students; we must also help re-train displaced workers as they prepare for the rapidly evolving economy. Invigorating our community college system is a good place to start. For example, recognizing this, I have long supported grants for educational instruction in digital and wireless technologies, targeted to minorities and low-income students who may not otherwise be exposed to these fields.
Beyond the basics of enabling every student to reach their potential, our country is faced with a critical shortage of students with specific skills fundamental to our ability to compete globally.
The diminishing number of science, technology, engineering and math graduates at the college level poses a fundamental and immediate threat to American competitiveness.
We must fill the pipeline to our colleges and universities with students prepared for the rigors of advanced engineering, math, science and technology degrees.
We must move aggressively to provide opportunities from elementary school on, for students to explore the sciences through laboratory experimentation, science fairs and competitions.
We must bring private corporations more directly into the process, leveraging their creativity, and experience to identify and maximize the potential of students who are interested and have the unique potential to excel in math and science.
We must strengthen skills of existing science and math teachers through training and education, through professional development programs and community colleges. I believe we must provide funding for needed professional teacher development. Where federal funds are involved, teacher development money should be used to enhance the ability of teachers to perform in today’s technology driven environment. We need to provide teachers with high quality professional development opportunities with a primary focus on instructional strategies that address the academic needs of their students. The first 35 percent of Title II funding would be directed to the school level so principals and teachers could focus these resources on the specific needs of their schools.
I will devote 60 percent of Title II funding for incentive bonuses for high performing teachers to locate in the most challenging educational settings, for teachers to teach subjects like math and science, and for teachers who demonstrate student improvement. Payments will be made directly to teachers. Funds should also be devoted to provide performance bonuses to teachers who raise student achievement and enhance the school-wide learning environment. Principals may also consider other issues in addition to test scores such as peer evaluations, student subgroup improvements, or being removed from the state’s “in need of improvement” list.
I will allocate $250 million through a competitive grant program to support states that commit to expanding online education opportunities. States can use these funds to build virtual math and science academies to help expand the availability of AP Math, Science, and Computer Sciences courses, online tutoring support for students in traditional schools, and foreign language courses.
I will also continue to support STEM education programs at NSF, DOE, NASA, and NOAA. These scientific agencies can and should play a key role in the education of its future engineers and scientists. These agencies have the opportunity to add a practical component to the theoretical aspects of the students’ educational process.”
Q13. Research. For many years, Congress has recognized the importance of science and engineering research to realizing our national goals. Given that the next Congress will likely face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in basic research in upcoming budgets?
“With spending constraints, it will be more important than ever to ensure we are maximizing our investments in basic research and minimizing the bureaucratic requirements that eat away at the money designed for funding scientists and science. Basic research serves as the foundation for many new discoveries and represents a critical investment for the future of the country and the innovations that drive our economy and protect our people. I have supported significant increases in basic research at the National Science Foundation. I also called for a plan developed by our top scientists on how the funding should be utilized. We must ensure that our research is addressing our national needs and taking advantage of new areas of opportunities and that the results of this research can enter the marketplace. We must also ensure that basic research money is allocated to the best science based on quality and peer review, not politics and earmarks.
I am committed to reinvigorating America’s commitment to basic research, and will ensure my administration funds research activities accordingly. I have supported increased funding at DOE, NSF, and NIH for years and will continue to do so. I will continue my commitment to ensure that the funding is properly managed and that the nation’s research needs are adequately addressed.”
Senator Barack Obama responded to fourteen science questions asked by Science Debate 2008 regarding how an Obama White House would lead the US in areas vital to our competitiveness and innovation. All fourteen questions and Obama’s answers in their entirety can be found here. Some highlights of most importance to the computing community include:
Q 1. Innovation. Science and technology have been responsible for half of the growth of the American economy since WWII. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will you support to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation?
Ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead the world in science and technology will be a central priority for my administration. Our talent for innovation is still the envy of the world, but we face unprecedented challenges that demand new approaches. For example, the U.S. annually imports $53 billion more in advanced technology products than we export. China is now the world’s number one high technology exporter. This competitive situation may only worsen over time because the number of U.S. students pursuing technical careers is declining. The U.S. ranks 17th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; we were in third place thirty years ago.
My administration will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade. We will increase research grants for early-career researchers to keep young scientists entering these fields. We will increase support for high-risk, high-payoff research portfolios at our science agencies. And we will invest in the breakthrough research we need to meet our energy challenges and to transform our defense programs.
A vigorous research and development program depends on encouraging talented people to enter science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and giving them the support they need to reach their potential. My administration will work to guarantee to students access to strong science curriculum at all grade levels so they graduate knowing how science works – using hands-on, IT-enhanced education. As president, I will launch a Service Scholarship program that pays undergraduate or graduate teaching education costs for those who commit to teaching in a high-need school, and I will prioritize math and science teachers. Additionally, my proposal to create Teacher Residency Academies will also add 30,000 new teachers to high-need schools – training thousands of science and math teachers. I will also expand access to higher education, work to draw more of these students into science and engineering, and increase National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate fellowships. My proposals for providing broadband Internet connections for all Americans across the country will help ensure that more students are able to
bolster their STEM achievement.
Progress in science and technology must be backed with programs ensuring that U.S. businesses have strong incentives to convert advances quickly into new business opportunities and jobs. To do this, my administration will make the R&D tax credit permanent.
Q 13. Research. For many years, Congress has recognized the importance of science and engineering research to realizing our national goals. Given that the next Congress will likely face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in basic research in upcoming budgets?
Federally supported basic research, aimed at understanding many features of nature- from the size of the universe to subatomic particles, from the chemical reactions that support a living cell to interactions that sustain ecosystems-has been an essential feature of American life for over fifty years. While the outcomes of specific projects are never predictable, basic research has been a reliable source of new knowledge that has fueled important developments in fields ranging from telecommunications to medicine, yielding remarkable rates of economic return and ensuring American leadership in industry, military power, and higher education. I believe that continued investment in fundamental research is essential for ensuring healthier lives, better sources of energy, superior military capacity, and high-wage jobs for our nation’s future.
Yet, today, we are clearly under-investing in research across the spectrum of scientific and engineering disciplines. Federal support for the physical sciences and engineering has been declining as a fraction of GDP for decades, and, after a period of growth of the life sciences, the NIH budget has been steadily losing buying power for the past six years. As a result, our science agencies are often able to support no more than one in ten proposals that they receive, arresting the careers of our young scientists and blocking our ability to pursue many remarkable recent advances. Furthermore, in this environment, scientists are less likely to pursue the risky research that may lead to the most important breakthroughs. Finally, we are reducing support for science at a time when many other nations are increasing it, a situation that already threatens our leadership in many critical areas of science.
This situation is unacceptable. As president, I will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade.
Sustained and predictable increases in research funding will allow the United States to accomplish a great deal. First, we can expand the frontiers of human knowledge. Second, we can provide greater support for high-risk, high-return research and for young scientists at the beginning of their careers. Third, we can harness science and technology to address the “grand challenges” of the 21st century: energy, health, food and water, national security, information technology, and manufacturing capacity.
The other twelve questions and answers are worth taking a look at as well.