Because these are substantive issues that will play a critical role in determining the nation's—not to mention our planet's—future, the Scientific American editors summarized and rated the candidates' answers. Our following analysis is not a comprehensive guide to the election—you will have to look elsewhere for an evaluation of the candidates' positions on foreign affairs, social values or tax policy. Instead we focused on highlighting how the candidates differ from each other on science. 

To make our determination, we invited readers to send us leads and solicited input from our board of advisers and other subject-matter experts. We scored the candidates' answers on a five-point scale (with five being best), using the following criteria: how directly and completely they answered the question; scientific accuracy; feasibility (including economic viability and clear accounting for both revenues and costs); potential benefits to health, education and the environment; and sustainability (meaning how well the proposed solutions balance the needs of current and future generations).

Overall, we found that Romney was more specific about what he would like to do in the next four years than Obama. His responses also fared better on feasibility. Obama had the upper hand on scientific accuracy. Romney's answers on climate change, ocean health and freshwater, in particular, revealed an unfamiliarity with the evidence that shows how urgent these issues have become. In a few cases, the candidates received identical scores for different reasons.

What follows is a summary. The candidates' full responses can be found at www.ScientificAmerican.com/nov2012/candidates or at www.sciencedebate.org/debate12.

—The Editors 


INNOVATION AND THE ECONOMY

Science and technology have been responsible for half the growth of the U.S. economy since World War II, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. Yet several recent reports question the U.S.'s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?