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In Obama or McCain, scientists see new hope

world Updated: Oct 24, 2008 10:03 IST
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US scientists will breath easier after the elections, certain either candidate will mark progress after the Bush administration and the influence of Christian fundamentalists on its policies.

Both the Democratic and Republican contenders have set themselves apart from President George W Bush's double term in office not only on the big scientific questions, but also in the way they approach research essential to maintain American dominance in military and high technology.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain acknowledge human activity contributes to global warming, and support mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions something Bush has opposed.

On energy, reducing US dependence on foreign oil is also a mutual priority, but they have different ideas on how to do so.

Obama wants to increase federal spending on research and development into alternative energy sources and greater energy efficiency by 150 billion dollars over 10 years, while McCain is proposing 45 new nuclear power stations by 2030.

Both candidates also want to lift the ban that Bush implemented in 2001 on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research which, supporters say, could lead to treatment for many incurable diseases.

Turning to the heavens, Obama and McCain endorse more spending on space exploration to meet the goal Bush set in 2004 of returning Americans to the moon by 2020 and extending manned missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system.

Both men also favor giving a greater role to a presidential advisor on science issues -- a position relegated to a minor status since 2001, the year that Bush took office with the strong support of Christian conservatives.

However, Obama and McCain differ when it comes to teaching the theory of evolution.

While both subscribe to Darwinism, McCain supports the parallel teaching of "intelligent design," a form of creationism embraced by his running mate Sarah Palin, who personally doubts human activity is responsible for global warming.

More broadly speaking, Obama and McCain disagree on how to bankroll basic research and stimulate innovation.

McCain wants to encourage research and innovation by lowering business taxes and eliminating regulations that, in his opinion, discourage investment in innovative activities.

Obama wants to boost federal spending for fundamental research leading to breakthroughs with industrial benefits. He also wants to see more money for training scientists and engineers, whose numbers are declining.

With Nobel medicine laureate Harold Varmus as his main science advisor, Obama has the support of 61 other American Nobel winners, including this year's chemistry co-laureate Martin Chalfie.

"Unfortunately, support for basic research has diminished in the United States over the last eight years," said Chalfie, who came out for Obama right after winning his Nobel prize. "It's a regrettable situation for us to see."

But the global financial crisis could limit the ambitions of Obama and McCain, whose spending plans for science have been estimated at 85.6 billion dollars and 78.8 billion dollars respectively.