This is a common question PR and issues management firms like mine receive from clients and potential clients. While the answer usually comes in the form of a multi-page proposal with a laundry list of tactics, another option is to point people to Science Debate 2008 and say, "maybe you should try what they're doing."
WASHINGTON – ScienceDebate2008.com, the citizens initiative calling for a presidential debate on science and technology policy, today announced that it has formally invited the presidential candidates to a debate on April 18 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, four days before the Pennsylvania Primary. The invitation to the candidates can be found here.
I learned about ScienceDebate2008, not surprisingly, from a discussion with some science bloggers. The coalition they're putting together is very impressive. Headlining organziations (there are dozens) now include AAAS, the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The Chairman of Intel has signed on, as have a number of nobel laureates, college and university presidents, and members of Congress.
Politically, it's a gutsy move. We don't know what the political landscape will look like just before the Pennsylvania primary, but it may very well still be competitive. Three of the four (if not all four) major candidates may still be left standing. From a PR standpoint, setting the time and place definitely sends a cue to the candidates that even if they don't show up - and personally, I hope they will - they should expect questions about science and technology, and stock answers like "investing in R&D is critical to our success" won't be good enough.
While the bloggers I talked with seem to lean left of center, this isn't a partisan discussion at all. For example, investing in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics education can be viewed as an economic issue, even a security issue. So much of our economy depends on science and technology, but in just a few years the overwhelming majority of science and engineering graduates will live somewhere else. Democrats don't own this issue. Neither do Republicans.
I've read some of the naysayers who question the utility of "politicizing" science through a debate, and that scientists might be better served by doing the tough work of lobbying and talking with policy leaders at every level. But the truth is this - science is already politicized, and it has been for quite some time. Scientists already engage in conversations with political leaders at every level, and have been for some time.
Frankly, I think the naysayers miss the point - you don't have a "science debate" to try to convince presidential candidates that science is important. They already know it's important. You hold a "science debate" to educate the public. You demonstrate that the people vying to be the leader of the free world consider this a priority. You give science a stage. Hopefully then politicians and scientists won't always have to make the case that science is important - the public will make it for them.
So tell a friend about Science Debate 2008.