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A Voter's Guide for the Scientifically Savvy

In case you haven't noticed, there is an election coming up on November 6. A couple of states have issues on the ballot which -- either directly or indirectly -- are related to science. What are they, and how should a scientifically savvy person vote?

California's Proposition 37: GMO Food Labels. Voters in California will have to decide whether or not to label food containing genetically modified ingredients. This is a topic we have covered extensively on RealClearScience. (See our archive on Food Labels and GMOs.) The scientific consensus is that this referendum is a very bad idea. Pro-label activists demand "the right to know" what is in their food, but putting labels on food that mislead consumers about the nature of biotechnology would not advance that goal. That is why the American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- the world's largest general scientific organization -- are opposed to GMO food labels.

It should also be noted that among Proposition 37's biggest supporters are merchants of organic food. If this law were passed, any food that contains GMOs would be legally banned from using the word "natural," essentially trademarking the word for the organic industry. (And since 75-80% of food already contains one genetically modified ingredient, this law would affect almost every item in the grocery store.) 121101_i_voted_ap_605.jpg

At its heart, Proposition 37 is nothing more than a pseudoscientific marketing ploy by the organic industry. The scientifically savvy voter would vote NO on Proposition 37.

Marijuana Legalization in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. Blazing up a doobie isn't directly related to science. While they may not be as bad for your lungs as cigarettes, scientists know that smoking marijuana still isn't good for you. It can lead to mental impairment which resembles schizophrenia, and teenagers who use it may see a drop in their IQ. So, what scientific issue is at stake?

Economics. Sure, that's the dismal science, but let's welcome the field into the scientific community for the sake of argument. Keeping marijuana illegal reduces the supply of marijuana, which, according to the economic laws of supply and demand, increases the price. A high price for marijuana incentivizes drug dealers to sell it, and it also incentivizes people to commit crimes in order to scrounge up enough money to buy it. Legalizing the drug would bring it out of the underground economy into the daylight, and that would increase supply. A greater supply would lead to a drop in price, making it less attractive to drug dealers. Very possibly, there would be a concomitant drop in drug-related crime.

By most measures, the War on Drugs has been a complete failure. Maybe it's time to try a market-based economic solution. So, the scientifically savvy person would vote YES on marijuana legalization.

Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney. Barack Obama promised to "restore science to its rightful place," and in a flourish which took presidential rhetoric to new heights, noted that his election would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." But, as I detail in my new book, Science Left Behind, the President has placed politics before science on a whole host of issues -- from vaccines and environmental policy to nuclear waste storage and clean energy. (You can read an excerpt of the book here.) And, unfortunately, the Obama campaign didn't seem to take the online Science Debate quite as seriously as did the Romney campaign.

Having said that, there isn't much reason to believe that one candidate would be better for science than the other. Romney doesn't have an extensive record on science to examine, but we do know he flip-flopped on climate change. After all, he is a politician.

When science and politics collide, more often than not, science loses. The scientifically savvy voter would understand that neither political party has a monopoly on being "pro-science."

(Image: AP photo)

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