Actually, Obama got his questionnaire in a couple of weeks ago, with McCain following this week. But the Scientists and Engineers for America, the non-partisan group that prepared the questionnaire, have set up a page so you can see both candidates' responses together. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the areas of difference are very few. McCain tilts a bit more toward ethical considerations on hot-button issues (stem cells, genetic research) but Obama is certainly conscious of such considerations in his answers. Likewise, Obama tilts a bit more toward environmental concerns where that is a consideration (ocean health, water) but McCain doesn't neglect those issues, either. (We do get an uncomfortable tingle when McCain puts intellectual property issues as a top issue in the innovation category - science benefits most when least encumbered.)
Anyway, energy is one of the topics. Here's the question:
Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?
McCain gives a paragraph to nuclear energy:
As President, I will put the country on track to building 45 new reactors by 2030 so that we can meet our growing energy demand and reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Nuclear power is a proven, domestic, zero-emission source of energy and it is time to recommit to advancing our use of nuclear energy. The U.S. has not started construction on a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years. Currently, nuclear power provides 20 percent of our overall energy portfolio. Other countries such as China, India and Russia are looking to increase the role of nuclear power in their energy portfolio and the U.S. should not just look to maintain, but increase its own use.
Obama? A bullet point:
A new generation of nuclear electric technologies that address cost, safety, waste disposal, and proliferation risks.
What? You expected something different?
Read the whole thing - both candidates tend to cover all the same bases in much the same way, but as the above example shows, the elements stressed can give a measure of the candidates' enthusiasm. It may feel a little like finding water with a divining stick, but that's politicians for you.
Here's how Scientists and Engineers for American describe themselves: "Our mission is to facilitate evidence-based decision making at all levels of government. Our programs include both a short-term focus on the 2008 national elections and a long-term focus on building a more engaged and politically active scientific community through SEA Chapters and the Campaign Education and Training program." [Paraphrased just a bit.]
Founded in 2006, the organization finds its roots in a distrust of science as a political tool. Here's a couple of bullet points from their Bill of Rights:
No one should fear reprisals or intimidation because of the results of his or her research.
Scientists, technologists, and engineers conducting research or analysis with public funding shall be free of unreasonable restrictions in discussing and publishing their work, and the results of governmentally-funded research and analysis shall be made open to the public without unreasonable delay.
This seems a reproach of the Bush Administration, but in truth science and government have always been uneasy bedfellows, with differing scales leading from good intention to bad faith. One could say, at least in some areas, that government and science fell out of sync on this scale and in fairly public ways.
On the other hand, this is the scientists' Web site - they get to be as absolutist as they want to here and to try to get the balance where they want it. The government will take care of itself - it supplies a lot of funding, after all, and will turn the money faucets on and off as suits its needs, current ideology and a whole raft of priorities. No one needs to feint toward a posture of superior purity.