The cover story in this week’s Nature is a political one: Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry, what is your stance on science? Fifteen questions were posed to each candidate, and their responses (or at least the responses from their respective camps) were printed. Some highlights:

— In addressing the potential dangers of allowing foreign scientist to visit and travel in the USA, both candidates played the national security card. Yes, in principle, they should be able to expedite the visa applications for legitimate scientists while still filtering out those who might pose a reasonable security risk. In practice, this is failing miserably. It is becoming well known in the scientific community that the US border is becoming increasingly impenetrable for many non-Europeans, particularly Asians, as their visa applications get caught up in endless quantities of red tape.

— Q: Do you support research into new nuclear weapons designs in the US? (excerpted answers follow)
Kerry: I would end the pursuit of a new generation of nuclear weapons.
Bush: The Nuclear Posture Review released by my administration in January 2002 noted that the nation’s nuclear infrastructure had atrophied since the end of the cold war and that the evolving security environment requires a flexible and responsive weapons-complex infrastructure. To that end, my fiscal-year 2005 reflects an increase over 2004 in weapons activities.

In other words, it appears that Bush wants to step up nuclear weapons development and readiness to Cold War levels. This is scary.

— On a personal interest note, both candidates pledged not to sacrifice funding for the environmental and physical sciences in favour of medical research. Big bonus points to Kerry for also pledging to double the number of NSF graduate scholarships in maths and sciences.

— Kerry supports the Endangered Species Act. Bush thinks “we need to modernize the act”. It’s like Kyoto all over again.

— Kerry thinks the scientific evidence clearly states that global warming is happening. Bush thinks the evidence is still uncertain. This is a case of their “judgements” of the scientific evidence merely falling in line with their politics. The truth is, atmospheric scientists are still very divided on the issue. Politicians will obviously stand behind the data which best suits their agenda.

— Stem Cell Research. OK, most people already know their stances here. Their statements are a bit bizarre. Kerry wants to “lift the ideological restrictions on stem cell research” but wants to do so “while ensuring rigourous ethical oversight”. Um, which is it? Once you’ve told the pro-lifers to shove it, what other ethical overseeing needs to be done?

Part of Bush’s statement takes a grounded tone that was missing in Kerry’s rather exuberant statement : “However, stem cell research is in a very early stage and while it may hold great promise we should not overstate the state of the science, or politicize these issues, because it gives false hope to individuals and families suffering through terrible illnesses”.

It is true enough that anyone who thinks that doctors will be able to grow them a new heart — perhaps in any of our lifetimes — is only kidding themselves. Therefore, from an investment standpoint, boosting stem cell research funds may not be the best practically-minded expenditure at this time. Of course, one could say that about ALL basic research.

Of course “we should not … politicize these issues” = “we don’t want to politicize it if it means misleading families that are suffering from illnesses, but we have no problem politicizing it to get the pro-lifers to vote for us”.