The narrative on Mitt Romney that Science puts together is fairly well known. It starts five years ago when, as governor of Massachusetts, he supported stem cell research and regional carbon dioxide reductions, and opposed teaching intelligent design in schools. It ends in 2005, when Romney’s presidential ambitions were taking shape, and he decided to reverse course on almost all of those positions. His saving grace, in the review, results form the reporter’s incredibly wise decision to call representative Vernon Ehlers, a Republican from Michigan and one of two Ph.D. physicists in Congress. Ehlers, who is a longtime member of the House Science Committee, has been ignored by the press this campaign season, but thinks Romney is the “best choice for any scientist or engineer.”
Finally, there is Fred Thompson. Fortunately, Science focuses on the actor/attorney’s recent naïve remarks about stem cell research and man-made climate change: he heralded the recent discovery that skin cells can be turned into embryonic-like stem cells as proof positive that Bush administration’s restrictive research policies are working; he also misused evidence on warming on other planets in the solar system to suggest that Mars and Jupiter “are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists.” While a senator from Tennessee, he helped win federal support for a $1.4 billion particle accelerator at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but the article quotes the scientific director of that project as saying that Thompson was far more interested in the in-state revenue than the science itself. Perhaps that explains why, “Campaign staffers declined repeated requests from Science to detail Thompson’s views on science and technology issues.”
With this issue, Science delivers the most up-to-date cache of information on candidates’ views on science and science policy. In his editorial, Kennedy was right to highlight the new role of religion in this presidential election. Indeed, in its recent list of the top religion stories of 2007, the Religion Newswriters Association made evangelicals disaffection with the GOP number one, and the Democrats’ attempts to woo them a close second. The same can also be said of the top science stories of 2007, however: Discover just compiled a list of one hundred, many of which are politically-oriented: number one is Chinese pollution, and numbers five and six deal with restructuring at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and domestic conservation programs, respectively. The difference between the politics of religion and the politics of science, as Kennedy points out, is that the former gets much more media attention than the latter.
*At press time, the special report was not yet available online.