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Candidates to answer questions on science, policy

President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney will answer a series of questions about science and related policy. The questions, developed by ScienceDebate.org with the help of a group of science and engineering organizations.

While all of the questions – and their answers – will be of interest to health journalists, here are five that are directly related to health:

Pandemics and Biosecurity. Recent experiments show how Avian flu may become transmissible among mammals. In an era of constant and rapid international travel, what steps should the United States take to protect our population from emerging diseases, global pandemics and/or deliberate biological attacks?

Food. Thanks to science and technology, the United States has the world’s most productive and diverse agricultural sector, yet many Americans are increasingly concerned about the health and safety of our food. The use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, as well as animal diseases and even terrorism pose risks. What steps would you take to ensure the health, safety and productivity of America’s food supply?

Fresh Water. Less than one percent of the world’s water is liquid fresh water, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of U.S. and global fresh water is now at risk because of increasing consumption, evaporation and pollution. What steps, if any, should the federal government take to secure clean, abundant fresh water for all Americans?

Science in Public Policy. We live in an era when science and technology affect every aspect of life and society, and so must be included in well-informed public policy decisions. How will you ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are fully informed by the best available scientific and technical information, and that the public is able to evaluate the basis of these policy decisions?

Vaccination and public health. Vaccination campaigns against preventable diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough depend on widespread participation to be effective, but in some communities vaccination rates have fallen off sharply. What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and in what circumstances should exemptions be allowed?

See the full list of questions on the ScienceDebate.org website. The group expects to have the candidates’ answers within a week. Follow @shawnotto, co-founder of ScienceDebate.org, on Twitter or join their Facebook group to find out the answers.  An email from the organization also advised signing up on the website for early notification, but that web page doesn’t say anything about notification; it does require your name and mailing address and has a box that you must uncheck if you don’t want to be listed on the site as a supporter.