Rating the Candidates: How Did SA Grade Romney and Obama on Science?

Scientific American

Where's the science? Scientific American, in an attempt to compensate for the deficit of important science issues discussed and debated so far in the presidential campaign, today offers its evaluation of Gov. Mitt Romney's and Pres. Barack Obama's answers to the 14 top science questions facing the U.S. A grassroots citizens' initiative known as ScienceDebate.org formulated the questions with the input of such leading organizations as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Council on Competitiveness.

SA teamed up with ScienceDebate.org in this effort in order to inject more discussion about critical science issues into the 2012 election campaign. Think fixing the economy is more important than talking about science? Consider this: half the growth in U.S. GDP since World War II is directly tied to innovations in science and technology. In other words, a sound scientific policy is a crucial foundation necessary to build a better economy.

So how did we grade the campaigns' responses? We began by soliciting comments to the answers posted in September. After examining these comments for useful information, we then reached out to Scientific American's Board of Advisers and asked them to complete a 45-minute survey that allowed them to rank the answers on a five-point scale (with five being best), which consisted of directness and completeness, scientific accuracy, feasibility (which includes figuring out costs and benefits), sustainability (meaning how well the proposed solutions balance the needs of current and future generations), and a catch-all category of benefits for health, environment or education.

Finally, we asked our staff editors to rank the responses using the same survey and five-category rating system. They also had to give a written explanation of their conclusions. Overall, when compared, the board's and editors' ratings were similar. You can see the grades they gave the presidential candidates here.

We chose to use a star system (five stars signifying the highest mark) instead of letter grades so that the grading system would be also be understandable to our international readers.

Marissa Fessenden also asked 32 congressional leaders who sit on science and technology related committees, and thereby have a greater input into how science policy is formulated and funded, to respond to a subset of eight science questions. You can see those results here.

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