Science Debate was founded during the 2008 U.S. election in response to the near absence of science and technology topics in the presidential debates and in the campaigns. Within weeks of its founding, people and organizations from across the political spectrum signed the following petition:

"Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth, we call for public debates in which the U.S. presidential and congressional candidates share their views on science and technology, health and medicine, and the environment.""

Supporters included prominent institutions such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the U.S. National Academies, as well as political strategists ranging from John Podesta, President Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, on the left to Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker, on the right.

In 2008, then nominees Senator Barak Obama and Senator John McCain agreed to participate in an online “debate.” The candidates’ answers to “The Fourteen Top Science Questions Facing America” were shared widely online and published in the journal Nature. In 2012, a similar endeavor was undertaken with President Obama and then Republican nominee Governor Mitt Romney. Scientific American published the responses and rated them based on current scientific understanding at that time. In both years, the candidates' answers made nearly 850 million media impressions.

In 2016, all four major candidates: President Donald Trump, Senator Hillary Clinton, Governor Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein responded in writing to “Twenty key science questions facing America.” Science Debate is currently expanding to foster public and media engagement on science policy issue as we build our efforts for the 2018 elections and beyond.