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Big Bird, not big tech, gets traction in debate

Patrick Thibodeau | Oct. 5, 2012
After last night's presidential debate, the possible fate of Big Bird is now known.

After last night's presidential debate, the possible fate of Big Bird is now known.

But the rival candidates gave no insight into the possible fate of exascale systems, the next generation of supercomputers.

In the 90-minute debate about domestic policy, neither Republican challenger Mitt Romney nor President Barack Obama detailed how the role of science and technology can stimulate the economy and creating jobs.

This omission did not go unnoticed.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, tweeted his frustration during the debate.

"Hmm. Obama & Romney spent 22 min on job-creation with hardly a sentence on the seminal role of sci-tech innovation in 21st century economies," tweeted Tyson (@neiltyson).

Obama addressed research spending broadly as part of an effort to counter Romney's tax cut position by arguing that the U.S. has a responsibility "to invest in basic science and research, all the things that are helping America grow."

Obama also cited some history to make his case for continued public investment in difficult times.

"In the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, let's help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad, let's start the National Academy of Sciences, let's start land grant colleges, because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans, because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we're all going to be better off," Obama said.

Peter Harsha, director of government affairs for the Computing Research Association, said "it's rare that federal support for science gets any sort of 'shout-out' in this sort of format, so Obama's mentions were certainly heartening," he said.

"I don't think Romney's silence on the issue signals a lack of belief in the importance of federal support -- he had other fish to fry," Harsha added.

Obama renewed his call for hiring 10,000 science and math teachers.

Romney countered that the White House spending of $90 billion on "green jobs" could have been better spent on education. "That would have hired 2 million teachers," said Romney ( The Boston Globe has a breakdown of the $90 billion claim.)

The two candidates, however, have outlined their view on innovation and technology in an online forum called Science Debate.

The forum is sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Council on Competitiveness, National Academy of Sciences and other organizations.

When asked in that forum what policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation, Obama said he is "committed to doubling funding for key research agencies to support scientists and entrepreneurs."

Romney stressed the economic importance of a national investment in basic research, and also wrote that the "promotion of innovation will begin on Day One, with efforts to simplify the corporate tax code, reform job retraining programs, reduce regulatory burdens, and protect American intellectual property around the world."


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