While presidential debates tend to revolve around topics such as jobs and the economy more so than climate change and energy research, thousands of Nobel laureates, college professors, university presidents, writers and lawmakers are leading a campaign to encourage 2016 presidential candidates to focus more on science this go around.
The group leading the movement, Science Debate, has an online petition with over 44,600 signatories pushing for a presidential debate specifically devoted to climate change, energy, health issues and water technology. They claim that 85 percent of U.S. voters want candidates to participate in a debate dedicated to science.
"Science topics are often kind of cast aside, and we want them to be reframed as 'These aren't science challenges, they are human challenges,'" said Sheril Kirshenbaum, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and co-founder of Science Debate, The International Business Times reported. "No matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat, they're going to affect you and your family."
The Obama administration recently warned that climate change poses a greater threat than terrorism. Further, a 2012 report commissioned by more than 20 governments found that over 100 million people will die as a result of climate change by 2030 if the world continues on its current path.
Still, a recent Gallup poll found that when Americans are considering which candidate to vote for, their position on science issues simply isn't an important factor, ranking at the bottom of the list. Instead, voters care more about the economy, foreign affairs, the way government operates in Washington, immigration, terrorism, the economy, health care policy, wealth distribution and race relations.
Seventy-seven percent of Americans, including 44 percent of Republicans, do, however, want the federal government to make significant steps in fighting climate change, as HNGN previously reported.
The Science Debate group formed during the 2008 election and managed to get then-Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain to agree to participate in a science debate before they eventually backed out. Instead, the two candidates provided written responses on 14 science-related questions, with the same happening in 2012 with President Obama and Mitt Romney.
A number of 2016 Republican presidential candidates have made statements in recent months on the topic of climate change, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and while they haven't been supportive of action on the issue, Kirshenbaum said the fact that they are even talking about it is good news, according to Think Progress.
She explained that Science Debate doesn't take sides on candidates' views on climate change and other issues, but rather, aims to simply facilitate a debate on the issues. "We just feel like their policies and views need to be out for all of us to decide on," she said.
"Our role from the beginning...is not to rank them or rate them but simply provide a means for voters to know what policies would look like," she said. "It's not about quizzing them; it's about finding out what their science policy would be," and which issues they would prioritize - "everything from funding of some of the science agencies to their plans for space exploration."