The Democratic Debate Science Literacy Drinking Game

A guide to sussing out the science policy of the Democratic hopefuls in tonight's live debate.

Oct 13 2015, 7:35pm

Illustration by DonkeyHotey/Flickr

Tuesday night, CNN is broadcasting the first Democratic nomination debate of the season. While it promises to not be as entertaining as the GOP debates (partly because there are fewer candidates and partly because none of them are Donald Trump), we've concocted a way to liven up your debate-watching experience while still thinking critically about the presidential hopefuls' points of view: the Motherboard Democratic Debate Science Literacy Drinking Game*.

Here's the thing: politicians don't have a particularly stellar track record when it comes to science literacy, and our current Congress might be the most egregious example. So we've got to hope that whoever becomes the next president, whether Republican or Democrat, will at least have a half-decent grasp on science and technology issues. Here are some topics to keep an eye out for, with some suggested beverage consumption guidelines to accompany them:

If any candidate acknowledges that the debate is being broadcast in VR, take a shot. Take two if they display any kind of genuine understanding of the technology.

CNN already paired up with NextVR (a virtual reality broadcast company) to record the GOP debate, which was made available after the fact. But this time around they're streaming it live in 3D VR. While CNN will surely be trumpeting this fact, it's yet to be seen how well the candidates understand the technology—or if they even realize it's being used.

Take a drink (not a shot, or you'll be on the floor) every time a candidate brings up Hillary Clinton's email scandal. Take a shot if a candidate is able to articulate an acute understanding of email security.

The revelation that Hillary used a secret, private email account while she was Secretary of State has plagued her throughout the campaign, and it's unlikely her fellow candidates (or, really, the moderators) are about to drop the issue any time soon. Wrapped up in the controversy are questions about cybersecurity, encryption, phishing attempts, and a swath of email that Clinton says she destroyed (but her service provider says could be recovered).

Anyone (including Clinton) can see using a private email server was probably a bad idea if not properly secured, and her fellow contenders likely won't be shy about criticizing the choice for being a major transparency problem, but how many of the candidates can speak with authority on the risks of lackluster encryption or the faux-ephemerality of digital storage?

Take a shot if a candidate brings up the Cyber Information Sharing Act. Take a double if any candidate presents a decent plan for how to improve government information security.

After a massive midsummer hack of the Office of Personnel Management, you'd think coming up with concrete solutions to improve government information security would be top of mind for candidates, but they've been mostly mum. In the wake of big breaches, it's not uncommon for politicians to point to CISA as a panacea, even though in many cases the problem isn't with information sharing, it's with infosec, a finer point politicians tend to gloss over.

Take a baby sip if a candidate brings up climate change or clean energy. Take a shot if a candidate presents a precise platform point on how to reduce the US contribution to climate change.

A discussion about climate change and investments in clean energy will almost certainly be on the agenda tonight, but keep a look out for deeper knowledge of the issue, including concrete solutions and ideas beyond the normal rhetoric: should the US invest in green tech? How do we make changes as a nation when many deny that there is even a problem?

Enjoy a snifter of brandy if a candidate scoffs at anti-vaxxers or uses the term herd immunity. Take a shot if a candidate takes a firm stance on the overuse of medically-important antibiotics in food production.

Health issues are good debate fodder because everybody has an opinion. Donald Trump and Ben Carson questioned the vaccination schedule in September's GOP debate (Trump even alluded to a well-debunked belief in a link between autism and vaccines), but it's yet to be seen if the Democrats will bother broaching the subject. As for antibiotics, in the wake of California's new strict limits on antibiotics used on farm animals, it would do well for presidential hopefuls to address how they plan to make changes nationwide...if they have a plan at all.

Take a swig of beer if a candidate pledges to improve funding for sciences. Take a shot if he or she puts an actual number on that pledge (in dollars, or even percentage increase).

Only 4 percent of the US federal budget this year was dedicated to scientific research (at the end of the 1960s, it was 10 percent), despite the fact that the number of qualified researchers in this country is constantly growing. Increased funding for science research is a pretty easy promise to make, but the distinguishing factor will be if a candidate has thought about this enough to put some numbers behind it.

Do a chambong if a candidate provides a plan on improving science literacy in public education.

When we have public schools teaching kids creationism in science class, there's a problem. But aside from saying "we need to do better," candidates rarely lay out an actual plan, especially considering the constraints of the federal government when curricula are largely dictated by the states.

Chug a beer if any candidates provide a plan for improving diversity in STEM careers.

Improving funding for women researchers. Encouraging young girls to pursue STEM education. Fixing the immigration system to allow better pathways for STEM professionals. Literally anything in this category would be worthy of a beer chug.

*Science says you should drink responsibly.