Thomas R. O'Donnell

Archive for 2019|Yearly archive page

In the Iowa Caucuses campaign, science voters have the power to prod candidates

In Government, STEM on June 17, 2019 at 7:10 am
Science on the Stump journalists Sarah Beckman, Douglas Burns, Brianne Pfannenstiel and Pat Rynard

Sarah Beckman of WOI-TV speaks to the audience at the March for Science Iowa Science on the Stump forum. From left, Douglas Burns, Brianne Pfannenstiel and Pat Rynard listen in. Photo by Joe Sheehan.

For Iowans who care about science – government support for research, using evidence to define policy, and things like addressing climate change and backing vaccine safety – now is the time to speak up.

The caucus campaign gives us a quadrennial opportunity to push for these goals. Candidates – and the reporters who cover them – are listening.

That was one message from Iowa journalists last month at Drake University in Des Moines. They were on the second of two panels gathered for Science on the Stump, hosted by the March for Science Iowa, a nonpartisan group that advocates for evidence-based policy and research in the public interest. I helped organize the event and previously wrote about the first forum, of scientists and science observers.

You can listen to the entire discussion on the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

The journalists who spoke noted that Iowans often dictate the subjects candidates address when they appear in cafes, barns, auditoriums and living rooms across the state. For example, activists and interested voters have made climate change a key science-related issue.

Reporters, editors and producers also respond to voter feedback, but a lack of science expertise sometimes makes it difficult for them to sift competing claims. Read the rest of this entry »

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To get candidates to debate science, ask the right questions

In Government on May 20, 2019 at 7:19 am
David Courard-Hauri, Dierdre Egan and David Kurns at Drake University for the March for Science Iowa "Science on the Stump" panel.

David Courard-Hauri makes a point at Drake University during the March for Science Iowa “Science on the Stump” panel. Dierdre Egan and David Kurns look on. Photo by Joe Sheehan.

Hordes of candidates are cutting across Iowa, touring ethanol plants and farms and chatting up voters in coffee shops and living rooms.

It’s to up us to get these would-be presidents to take science seriously, leaders in education and agriculture told an Iowa audience at a recent discussion, hosted by March for Science Iowa. We must demand that they support their views with solid research.

The session (which I helped organize) was designed to get Iowans – and, more importantly, journalists and candidates – talking about science, research and evidence-based policy, subjects that usually get little attention on the campaign trail.

It was illuminating discussion, illustrating Iowans’ diverging views on such science-based issues as climate change and water quality. One thing most spoke to: science advocates must change how they address the issues if they’re to gain support from other voters.

The big question is how to do it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Putting science on the Iowa presidential caucus campaign agenda

In Government on April 24, 2019 at 11:13 am
The science commandments, from a 2017 March for Science Iowa participant: Thou shalt: Question, Research, Hypothesize, Test, Analyze, Conclude. Thou Shalt NOT: Jump to Conclusions on "Alternative Facts," Illogical arguments, Ideology instead of Reason.

The science commandments, from a 2017 March for Science Iowa participant.

For something that affects our lives in so many ways, science gets remarkably little attention when candidates at all levels – especially for president – talk to voters.

Science-based policies govern our air, water, health, food, communications – nearly everything we do, hear, see, taste and smell every day. A president’s appointees to such scientific agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy Office of Science, Agricultural Research Service and National Institutes of Health can affect our lives more deeply than Congress.

So why doesn’t science get a bigger share of a candidate’s standard campaign speech? Why don’t reporters and news anchors press them on whether they’re prepared to base energy, environmental, health and agricultural policy on scientific evidence? Why aren’t candidates announcing up front what kinds of experts they will appoint to head agencies that support research and create science-based policies?

The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Science Debate has tried to address this problem since the 2008 presidential election. It’s still working to drive discussion on these issues – including providing grants to local organizations with similar goals.

March for Science Iowa is joining in that mission with an event next month.

Read the rest of this entry »

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