BOSTON, Massachusetts (AFP) — Science advisors to US Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton faced off in a debate at the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Both Democratic contenders and their Republican front-running rival, Senator John McCain, declined to take part in the discussion at the scientific gathering in Boston Saturday, an AAAS spokesman said.
But the challenge of appearing before a hall full of top scientists was taken up by Obama's young science advisor and senior vice president of the non-profit One Economy Corporation, Alec Ross; and by Clinton's advisor, Thomas Kalil, special assistant to the Chancellor for Science and Technology at the University of California at Berkeley.
The informal debate was greeted with keen interest by the audience, whose members sent hundreds of questions to the New York Times science reporter acting as moderator.
The scientists' reactions to the answers, however, was subdued at best: Ross and Kalil each were applauded twice and briefly.
The two advisors showed that, while the two candidates' programs for science and technology were similar on many points, they were quite different in their approach.
Clinton and Obama propose doubling the federal budget for basic scientific research over a period of five years; investing heavily in technology to produce next-generation biofuels; and advancing the fight against global warming.
They also want to remove what they say are the current ideological constraints on science, to return it to its rightful place in government policies.
"Hillary Clinton will end this assault on science," said Kalil, who served as deputy assistant for technology and economic policy under former president Bill Clinton.
"She knows that innovation is critical for economic growth and high paying jobs," he added, after outlining Hillary Clinton's science program on a giant graph.
Ross limited himself to a simple oral presentation that was less structured as he invited members of the audience to visit Obama's Internet site to get more details about his program.
It argued that the senator from Illinois intended to use science and technology as tools for achieving his economic and social goals.
"Senator Obama wants to use technology and innovation to solve our nation's most pressing problems," Ross said.
For him, access to technological educational tools was a means of eliminating social disparities, the adviser said.
He said he wanted to equip all public schools in low-income neighborhoods with computers that would have high-speed access to the Internet.
In a bid to reduce healthcare costs, the candidate proposes to invest 50 billion dollars over five years in computerizing all medical records, which is expected to help save potentially 77 billion dollars a year.
Obama also plans to create the post of high representative for technology to ensure that the federal government is equipped with information systems of the 21st century.
Clinton supports the current space exploration program, but intends to increase NASA's budget to boost Earth sciences and help fight against global warming, said Kalil.
Obama has not finished formulating his position on space research, said his adviser, but he intended to do it soon.
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