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Scientists, policymakers to talk issues

Political priorities at heart of next week's U conference
By Leslie Brooks Suzukamo
Article Last Updated: 10/17/2008 09:15:42 PM CDT

And now, a question for Barack Obama and John McCain from the science nerds.

Nobel Prize winner and Northfield native Dr. Peter Agre wants the presidential candidates to say a little more about their science and technology policies.

Agre, who won the 2003 Nobel for chemistry and directs the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, will open a two-day conference as keynote speaker Monday at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in Minneapolis that brings together scientists and policy makers. He also is a science adviser for the Obama campaign.

The Innovation 2008 Conference, organized by Steve Kelley, a former state legislator who is director of the Humphrey Institute's Center for Science and Technology, is an attempt to focus attention on the scientific issues that will confront the next president.

Agre says the candidates' policies could determine how America addresses issues such as global warming, energy and health care. Science and technology might even reignite the sputtering economy, he added.

"Science policy needs a champion, and right now, elected officials have a lot of latitude depending upon the voters," Agre said. If voters don't care, the politicians won't either, he said.

The conference grew out of a national campaign called Science Debate 2008, co-founded by Shawn Otto, a Twin Cities screenwriter who is married to State Auditor Rebecca Otto.

The campaign, which has attracted support from academics like Agre and the CEOs of major technology companies like Intel, honed 14 science questions the candidates answered online at sciencedebate2008.com.

U.S. economic dominance was driven by science and engineering, technology supporters say, but government support for basic scientific research has slackened over the past couple decades.

"Science presents a wonderful opportunity to keep moving ahead," Agre said. "This is not the time to cut back."

Leslie Brooks Suzukamo can be reached at 651-228-5475.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
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