Science On the Radar Screen

Science has never been a major issue in U.S. presidential campaigns. But yesterday John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, made the state of America's research enterprise a part of his effort to unseat President George W. Bush.

Speaking in Denver, Colorado, on 21 June, Kerry harshly criticized the president for leading "one of the most antiscience Administrations in history." The Massachusetts senator also pledged to lift the ban on stem cell research and remove ideology from scientific decisionmaking if he wins in November.

Kerry's talk during a Colorado campaign swing came the same day that four dozen Nobel Prize winners released a letter supporting his candidacy. The laureates, including biologist and California Institute of Technology President David Baltimore, Harvard University chemist Walter Gilbert, and retired Department of Energy physicist Burton Richter, accused Bush of "undermining the foundation of America's future" by reducing research funding, scaring away foreign talent, and ignoring scientific consensus on the dangers of global warming.

In a fact sheet put out the same day, Kerry's campaign blasted the Bush Administration for putting "politics over science to please their right-wing constituency." Kerry, who supports overturning the ban on federal funding for research on stem cell lines developed after 9 August 2001, said, "If we pursue the limitless potential of our science and ... use it wisely, we will save millions of lives and earn the gratitude of future generations."

The Bush campaign wasted no time responding to the attacks. "Only John Kerry would declare the country to be in scientific decline on a day when the country's first privately funded space trip is successfully completed," says spokesperson Steve Schmidt. "America is the world leader in patents, research and development, and Nobel prizes, and the president's 2005 budget [would] raise federal research and development funding to $132 billion, a 44% increase since taking office."