BUSH: After consulting religious leaders, physicians, scientists, and ethicists, the president issued a Solomonic decision on August 9, 2001. The 78 stem cell lines in existence would qualify for government-financed research, he said, but no additional money would be provided for additional cell lines. The decision was seen as an effort to mollify the religious fundamentalists at the core of Bush’s political support who are ideologically opposed to deriving the cells from frozen embryos in fertility clinics and scientists and patients who hope that the cells could be used to help patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal-cord injuries, and diabetes.
BUT: Although scientists initially regarded the decision as better than expected, they soon had concerns. About three-fourths of the stem cell lines were found to be unsuitable for research, and many if not all the lines were contaminated with mouse feeder cells. Among the protesters was Nancy Reagan. Referring to her late husband’s long affliction with Alzheimer’s disease, the former first lady urged the president to provide unhampered government support for embryonic stem cell research. Bush did not yield. Demands of patients and supporters continue to arouse support on Capitol Hill. The pressures may be rising to the point where an adroit political retreat will be in the offing.
KERRY: Kerry has said he would cancel Bush’s stem cell edict. A strong supporter of human embryo stem cell research, the senator joined with hundreds of legislators from both parties after Ronald Reagan’s death in a renewed plea for Bush to remove restrictions. The statement raised hopes for a White House turnabout. Kerry’s involvement dates back at least to July 2001. At that time, Kerry and 57 other senators urged the president to recognize the need for federal support. Kerry and his colleagues emphasized that embryos in excess of fertility needs at in vitro clinics are routinely destroyed. “We ought to realize their promise of life,” the senators wrote, “rather than lose it altogether.”
BUSH: The president set ambitious goals in space, starting with the completion of the troubled International Space Station by 2010, a base on the moon as early as 2015, and “human exploration of Mars and other destinations.” The cost of sending humans to Mars was not stated, and unofficial estimates range up to a trillion dollars.
BUT: At this stage, talk is cheap. It takes many years to ramp up spending for big space endeavors. The first major payments would not be due until at least a decade from now, long after Bush leaves office. The president’s latest budget calls for a 5.2 percent increase in NASA’s budget next year, to $16.2 billion. But his plans also cancel or revamp many existing NASA programs. Given the depleted state of the Treasury and a long record of public indifference to space programs, doubts about fulfillment of the moon-Mars plans are abundant on both sides of the political aisle.
KERRY: The senator is a member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the authorization of NASA’s budget. “I’m excited by potential advances in pharmaceuticals that microgravity could lead to,” he told Space News in June. He said the space program is “an engine of innovation for the entire country,” adding that the benefits are enormous. Although they are difficult to quantify, he says, they are “even harder to discount.”
BUT: The senator’s legislative involvement with space issues has been negligible, and he has fewer specific programs for space exploration than his opponent. On the campaign trail, he has sniped at Bush’s moon-Mars ambitions, charging that the goals far exceed the funding available, thus compelling such decisions as abandoning the Hubble telescope. “The most critical element of our space program,” Kerry told Space News, “should be reducing the costs and increasing the reliability of transportation to and from low Earth orbit,” goals he says the president has neglected.
BUSH: The administration denies allegations that it has employed ideological “litmus tests” to screen candidates for appointments to federal committees on environmental and health issues, that it has suppressed reports that offend its antiabortion backers, and that it has politicized science. John H. Marburger III, the president’s science adviser, says critics have conjured up conspiratorial patterns from isolated incidents involving advisory appointments and policy decisions at the Department of Health and Human Services and the EPA. “Even when the science is clear—and often it is not—it is but one input into the policy process,” Marburger argued last April. Marburger, a Democrat, was backed by a predecessor in the White House science post, D. Allan Bromley, adviser to the first President Bush. Responding to a bill of particulars against the administration by 60 scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, Bromley scoffed, “You know perfectly well that it is very clearly a politically motivated statement.”
BUT: No one can ignore that the number of scientists who say research is being influenced by right-wing ideology is increasing. Although an editorial in the journal Nature last year recalled that prior administrations have also been accused of tinkering with scientific independence, it noted that “some of the recent developments are disturbing.” The plain fact is that the scientific community is fired up as never before, and very few scientists have spoken out in Bush’s favor.
KERRY: The senator strongly seconds the accusations against the White House, denouncing Bush as the head of “one of the most antiscience administrations in our nation’s history,” and accusing him of abusing scientific independence to pander to his right-wing backers. Kerry says his administration would always judge scientific advice on its professional merits, and not by ideological standards.
BUT: All presidents seem to favor advisers who share their political and ideological preferences.
BUSH: Bush is on record as strongly supporting government assistance for innovation in manufacturing. In February Bush directed heads of federal agencies to assist technological enterprise through a long-standing government-wide program that subsidizes private-sector research under the Small Business Administration. The programs were launched by Congress during Ronald Reagan’s first term and can be found in virtually every congressional district, making them politically untouchable.
BUT: At the same time, Bush tried to abolish another program with the same aim, the Commerce Department’s Advanced Technology Program, a Clinton administration favorite that provides government funds for consortiums of private firms, sometimes in collaboration with universities or government laboratories, to work on common industrial problems. What’s the difference between the two programs? Not much in content. But politically, they’re worlds apart. Clinton’s ambitions for his program drew the fire of Newt Gingrich and his Republican budget-cutting revolution and never came close to the billion-dollar level he wanted. This year, the Clinton plan is budgeted for $184 million and will drop to zero if Bush has his way. Republicans traditionally oppose giving money to private businesses for research, which they are quick to call corporate welfare.
KERRY: In the last several years, the senator proposed or backed several multibillion-dollar programs to promote industrial innovation, in-cluding $10 billion for research to develop a system that uses hydrogen as a fuel. He says he will also support additional funding for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and NASA. “Research funded by the federal government,” Kerry says, “can pave the way for new innovation and advancements in high-growth fields.” Among the original sponsors of the Advanced Technology Program, the senator has been a strong supporter, arguing that it can produce high-payoff research when venture capitalists are not willing to risk an investment. In speeches and statements during his senate career, Kerry has often stressed the importance of government-supported research for stimulating economic development and job creation. Massachusetts, with its many high-tech firms and university-backed start-up companies, is a beneficiary of government research support aimed at economic development.
BUT: In these matters, as in others where Kerry or Bush promise more support for science and technology, a provocative question remains: Where will the money come from?