Stem cell research the main difference

By Gus Bode

The development of science and technology is largely dependent on who sits in the Oval Office. This year’s presidential candidates offer sometimes-polarizing platforms on research, stem cells and global warming.

President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry have both been vocal about their plans for science and technology, a role that has not been as prevalent in previous elections.

“It’s much more prominent than it has been in most campaigns that I can remember,” said Al Teich, director of science policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.


The coming year’s budget calls for a record $132 billion for research and development, in what his website says is a 44-percent increase from the 2001 budget, which was approved before Bush took office.

The Bush campaign site states that Bush is committing “13.5 percent of the total discretionary spending to research and development – the highest in 37 years.”

Teich said because all federal research money comes from the discretionary budget, other spending is drawing the available money away.

“The discretionary budget is being squeezed by all of these big tax cuts, and we are spending money hand over fist on the war as well as other homeland security,” he said. “What’s happening is that [research] and [development] is competing with whole lot of other worthy causes and programs.”

However, according to the AAAS, the Department of Defense will get almost half, or $69.9 billion, of this money for applied research such as developing new weapons. Teich said most university-driven research is considered basic research, which can be defined as research not done for immediate practical application.

Both types of research are being performed at SIUC, said John Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and development.

“The most cutting-edge research is typically funded by some agency and the most competitive agencies are the federal agencies,” Koropchak said.


“How much research that can be done around the country at universities is significantly affected by the budgetary decisions for the federal agencies.”

The budget for the National Institutes of Health, a large federal agency that awards many highly competitive grants, was approved to double over five years during Bush’s term.

Legislation signed by Bush in 2002 to increase the budget of the National Science Foundation, another large provider of federal money, by 15 percent during three years, but did not include it in his budget proposal.

Nearly 60 percent of all university research dollars can be traced back to federal agencies, Teich said, but it only accounts for one-third of all research nationally.

Kerry’s plans for research spending are less clear but according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education he said he would encourage primary, “curiosity-driven” research, especially in the physical sciences.

Kerry has also personally claimed himself the “candidate for science” and has joined the ever-widening arena of supporters who claim Bush has put politics before science.

In February the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report that criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of science. Nearly 5,000 scientists have signed a petition supporting this report.

Teich said that through the years politicizing science has become an increasing issue, including many documented cases against the current administration.

“But there are a great many scientists who seem to think that ideology is trumping science,” Teich said.

Aside from research expenditures, candidates’ plans for issues like global warming and space exploration that are similar, stem cell research is a polarizing issue for both candidates.

In 2001, Bush was the first president to allow federal funds to be used for human embryonic stem cell research, but limited research by not allowing destruction of the embryos.

“I put in place reasonable ethical requirements for scientists who want to use taxpayer dollars,” Bush said in an interview with Science. “I believe that scientific discovery and ethical principles can go hand-in-hand and that we should not use taxpayer money to encourage or endorse the additional destruction of living, human embryos.”

In the same question and answer session Science, Kerry said he would lift all limitations on stem cell research.

“We must make funding for this research and other important scientific work a priority in our universities and our medical community-all while we ensure strict ethical oversight,” he said.

The candidates also have different policies for controlling global warming, but both agree the Kyoto Protocol, agreement that established specific timelines for greenhouse gas reductions, should not be supported.

Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow in Environmental Studies at the Cato Institute, a non-profit libertarian think-tank, said global warming is not as high an issue as it is in European countries.

“You have to ask yourself why is this issue so radioactive?” he said. “I would argue that this campaign has less to do with the environment than any other.”