Brussels, 16 Sep 2004
In the run up to the US presidential election, the science journal Nature has put 15 questions on current science debates to both candidates. The responses by current President and Republican George Bush, and by Democrat John Kerry reveal differences of opinion on a range of policies, from stem cell research and climate change to nuclear weapons technology.
In August 2001, President Bush announced that federal funding would be available for research using existing stem cell lines, but that no new lines could be created. In his response to a question on Nature on revisiting the policy, Mr Bush claims that he is 'committed to pursuing stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line. He adds that his policy makes it possible for researchers to investigate the potential of embryonic stem cells 'while respecting the ethical and moral implications associated with this research.'
Mr Kerry, in contrast, pledges to lift the 'barriers that stand in the way of science' and to 'push the boundaries of medical exploration so researchers can find the cures that may exist.' He refers to the current restrictions on stem cell research as 'ideologically driven' and promises to overturn the current ban on federal funding. Rigorous ethical oversight will, however, continue.
The withdrawal of the US from the Kyoto Protocol, at the instigation of President Bush, outraged many in Europe. In his Nature response he recognises that global climate change is a 'serious long term issue', but insisted that there remains 'considerable uncertainty' regarding the impact that climate change will have on the environment. He outlines current initiatives aimed at advancing science, expanding the use of transformational energy and carbon sequestration technologies and limiting the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Kerry uses his response to draw attention to his ongoing efforts to obtain a 'balanced global warming treaty'. He pledges to take the US back to the Kyoto negotiating table while introducing domestic policies to reduce pollution.
Both candidates also appear to have opposing views on the pursuit of new nuclear weapon technology. While Mr Kerry begins his response by asserting that he will 'end the pursuit of a new generation of nuclear weapons', Mr Bush indicates his strong support for nuclear weapons research by emphasising how the country's nuclear laboratories are the 'source of unparalleled technological progress, and are helping America win the War on Terror.'
Another aspect of nuclear technology, fusion research, has both Mr Bush and Mr Kerry emphasising the importance of remaining part of the ITER (international thermonuclear experimental reactor) project, in which the EU is also a partner. Mr Bush indicates that ITER is the Department of Energy's top facilities priority, while Mr Kerry notes that his first priority will be to seek international cooperation on this and other energy issues.
While the current President maintains his enthusiasm for US breakthroughs in space, Mr Kerry is more restrained. Although he does not reiterate his wish to see a 'man on Mars' as announced earlier in the year, he still wants to see US astronauts return to the moon no later than 2020. Mr Kerry also commits to funding for space exploration, but adds that there is 'little to be gained from a space initiative that throws out loft goals, but fails to support those goals with realistic funding.'
Still on the subject of space technology, Mr Bush stands by his policy of developing and deploying, as soon as possible, ballistic missile defences. Mr Kerry calls for a more cautionary approach, stating: 'I am not for rapid deployment of missile defense. We should not waste money on deployment at this point. I favor additional research, development and testing.'
Other questions put to the presidential hopefuls relate to visa restrictions for scientists, scientific advisory panels, biomedical research funding, increasing consumption through science, the Endangered Species Act, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the development of new drugs, and BSE.