Letter from the Editor

bridges vol. 35, October 2012 / Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

Four more weeks to go until Election Day on November 6th. While science and technology issues are not necessarily at the top of any US presidential campaign agenda, they have gained some traction during the last few weeks.

Both President Obama and his opponent, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, have published lengthy party platforms outlining their political standpoints. These documents seek to cater to broad constituencies, and thus they usually lack more specific details on planned actions. However, they do offer some insight into how party positions have changed over the last four years. The platforms also provide hints as to the topics a second-term president or a new Romney administration would focus on.

I found it most striking on the Republican platform, that climate change policy simply disappeared compared with the platform presented four years ago by then-presidential candidate Senator John McCain. Reflecting the views of many Republican representatives who won their seats during the last Congressional elections in 2010, climate change is questioned by conservatives and is thus considered an issue that requires "continued debate and investigation within the scientific community," as Mitt Romney states in the online platform ScienceDebate.org.

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What this means is that no climate action will be taken by the US under Republican governance. As a matter of fact, the Republican platform explicitly urges Congress to "take quick action" to prevent the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. This whole approach of "continued debate and investigation within the scientific community" reminds me of the tobacco industry's strategy in the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, their "doubt is our product" strategy focused on sowing seeds of doubt among the public on matters of settled science – in the case of the tobacco industry, to discredit the proven links between smoking and cancer – in order to gain time for their own commercial interests.

President Obama, in contrast, has stated that he sees "global climate change as one of the biggest threats of this generation." He affirms the science of climate change and wants to significantly reduce pollution that causes climate change. What still is missing from his party platform, however, is how he'd plan to tackle this should he be reelected.

Another interesting topic for comparison between Democrats and Republicans is the question of energy. While both sides agree on the need for an "all of the above" approach when it comes to developing US energy resources, the differences lie in the details: During his first debate with Obama on October 3rd, Romney stated that he "likes coal" and that he wants to open up areas in Alaska and offshore for oil and gas drilling to "take advantage of all our American God-given resources." Obama's priorities for the last four years have been to improve energy efficiency and to develop clean energy sources such as solar or wind. And he has made clear his ongoing commitment to the path of renewable energies.

While one could continue analyzing the campaign rhetoric on topics such as skilled immigration, biomedical research including embryonic stem cell research, or space policy, it is worthwhile to look at what the candidates actually have not mentioned so far even though it looms like Damocles' Sword over US science and research: the budget. Not only has US federal R&D funding declined by 10 percent in real dollars since FY 2010, it now also faces automatic cuts, called sequestration, which will entail a $12.5 billion cut to the R&D budget on January 2, 2013, should Congress not act by then. Two articles in this issue of bridges address this topic. The first article, "Sequestration and US Science Budgets," is written by Matt Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS, and it examines what these across-the-board cuts would mean for the science budgets of federal agencies. The second article, "The Impact of Sequestration on the US Innovation Landscape," by ITIF's Stephen Ezell, focuses on the long-term consequences of such cuts for US innovation capacity and competitiveness.

Additional contributions by Alice P. Gast, a US Science Envoy who travels the world as an academic ambassador, or by Norman P. Neureiter, who shares his experiences in science diplomacy with Syria, provide you with perspectives on and insights into other parts of the world, as well as what science and research can – and sometimes can't – do. As usual, we also introduce the work of outstanding Austrian scientists in bridges. In this issue, we feature three women and their scientific accomplishments: Sabine Ladstätter, an archaeologist who heads excavations in Ephesus, Turkey; Karin Muglach, a solar physicist with NASA; and Helga Schreckenberger, chair of the Department of German and Russian Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Vermont.

For these articles, and others as well, I wish you a pleasant reading experience.

Caroline Adenberger