The Cycle | October 16, 2012
>>> back now with a different kind of scientific polling. last election cycle a group of scientists in 38,000 or so people who signed their petition argued for a presidential debate about science . as we know, that never happened. instead though, they succeeded in something slightly less ambitious. they got the candidates to submit written responses about more than a dozen top science issues ranging from space exploration to climate change to whether vaccines cause autism. then the editors graded the answers. this year it was barack obama and mitt romney 's turn. they found scientific american that is, found mitt romney 's science policies were more specific and more feasible than the president's but obama scored higher when it came to scientific accuracy. what has been most surprising is how anti- science politics has become and how scientific facts seem up for debate. this is happening during an election where the economy is an especially large factor. half of our economic growth since world world 2 is traced back to innovations in science . we could litigate sort of all of the specific questions here, science questions and the fact that are being disputed. i think there's a much larger point here. it's not necessarily a new one. it's just that instead of having facts about, say, climate change inform the discussion and inform the policy making , basically we've reached a point where you have a choice. you can accept the facts and play along or you can deny the facts, you can create your own, and you're going to have a massive constituency for it. that ends up affecting the overall policy debate , and i just haven't seen a voice or an institution or a force that can cut through that and can force everybody onto the same page. it affects science and so many other issues, too. this seems to be the modern reality of our politics.
>> i agree. we want science to become political because we want government to do something, to prevent and prepare for natural disasters . we want government to foster technological information, we want government to implement policies that are informed by scientific knowledge , but i feel like part of the problem that when science becomes politicized, then both sides use it and manipulate it at times to promote an agenda that can completely subvert science .
>> well, guys, coming back to the debate tonight, i put the question out to twitter, what would you -- what would you change about debates? what would you add to them? how would you modify them? overwhelmingly the response that i got was realtime fact checking . i sta rted to think about how could that actually work? the problem is as you were saying, steve, even if you had a fact checker there from politifact or fact check.org or "the washington post " or whoever it was, that would be up for debate, too. there is no person -- trust in our large institutions is at such low levels, there is no person or no thing that everyone would trust. i was actually trying to come up with if there was a crowd source way, sort of like a rotten tomatoes site for fact checking where people could log on and say i give that a half true or a pants on fire. if i wonder if this would be actually a most trustworthy source than one individual anointed person.
>> even the notion of a half truth is annoying to me. either it's true or the knotts. ultimately what we're talking about is anti-intellectualism is a virtue for many people in modern america. the idea that i'm real because i'm not swayed by what those elitists think and --
>> ivory tower .
>> they talk about in harvard yard . i know what i know from my gut ergo, you can trust me. part of what it is is most people can be swayed by the idea that this study exists and there's this other study that counteracts it. doesn't matter if it's peer reviewed or if the results are retraceable. i choose to believe that study. there was a study in the past that was proven wrong so i can dismiss this study. the bible though never changes. so i can always listen to that and then we get down into the rabbit hole .
>> but, you know, i think this gets to what krystal is saying. i think the basic stumbling block is i can't think of anyone in this country who really you could say rises above the political debate , rises above the partisan polarization and can make a definitive statement about this is something we should accept as a fact as a reality, this side happens to be ride on this issue without immediately being tainted with the cry of, you know, partisanship. you think of the famous example of walter cronkite back during the vietnam war . he had the vast middle american audience and supposedly lbj decided it was doomed when he lost walter cronkite . you think about some kind of parallel example today, you know, any news person who does that, if it's inconvenient to the right --
>> you would taint them for political purposes. as you have explained before they consistently taint "the new york times" or other respectable organs so they can not have to listen to them in the future.
>> right. and, you know, it's a real -- it's a real obscure point here, but, you know, there was an election in georgia, the small country, last week. it was interesting to watch what happened there though because there is a figure in that country who rises above politics and that's the religious leader, and he managed to basically cast his lot with the opposition party and that moved voters.
>> that sounds dangerous.
>> a little too long. that does it for the cycle but the debate coverage, it doesn't stop. it will keep going and going and going. and going. martin bashir takes