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MIT Should Promote Science Debate for Presidential Candidates

Historically, MIT’s role in promoting science policy is unparalleled. Vannevar Bush EGD ’16 had a key role in the massive mobilization of the science community during World War II. But even in peacetime, he lobbied for the creation of the National Science Foundation. MIT Presidents Karl T. Compton and James R. Killian Jr. ’26 also helped shape U.S. science policy in this era.

The United States has again reached a crossroads. Without a Nazi or Soviet threat to galvanize the scientific community to action, we must take the initiative in promoting science awareness. We must confront our presidential candidates and hold them accountable for their opinions and policies regarding scientific issues. We cannot allow science to take the back seat to partisan squabbles and political grandstanding as it has in the recent past. Recent budget cuts to the NSF, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institutes of Health highlight how low science has sunk in the pecking order in Washington.

It’s relatively easy to see the effects of stagnated science policy on our community. Stem cell research in the United States is crippled, and labs continue to move abroad. MIT has significant investment in “big science” initiatives at CERN, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center that have been cancelled or scaled back. Perhaps your lab or research escaped the chopping block this year. However, Congress and the president continually demonstrate their disregard for the machinery that drives our economy. To satisfy our hunger for more energy at lower cost, new drugs and treatments, and a decreased environmental footprint, we must grease the wheels with funding and support at the national level.

In spite of all this, MIT is yet to join Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the National Academies of Engineering and Science, and five MIT faculty Nobel laureates in persuading the 2008 presidential candidates to participate in a televised science debate. MIT can and should take not only a role but the lead in this matter. Our institution is universally recognized as the premier science and engineering institution in the United States, and its support adds credibility to a movement yet to gain traction outside the science community. I hope that in the coming months President Hockfield, the faculty, and students formally express their support for the idea.

Since my graduation in June, MIT has made plenty of headlines: fraudulent staff, incorrect reporting of SAT scores, a murder attempt, and jokes at the airport. Perhaps it’s time that we make a positive contribution to the national news.

Brian A. Wilt ’07