The organizers of a proposed science and technology debate among the presidential candidates have set a date, April 18, and place, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. This would be four days before the Pennsylvania primary.

The group, ScienceDebate2008.com, has sent invitations to each of the remaining candidates.

Now the big question is whether their handlers will allow them to engage the thorniest scientific issues — like the dribble of money that the United States has invested in energy research through Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses; fetal rights and embryonic stem cell research; the need to add a cost to burning fossil fuels; reconciling science with belief in an all-powerful deity; the theory of evolution, which so many Americans (read voters) reject; etc.

Is there a big enough constituency passionate about science and related issues for campaign strategists to justify having candidates spend an hour or two on such prickly issues?

The latest polling from the Pew Research Center on public concern (the lack of it, actually) about climate change doesn’t suggest a groundswell. I’d like to think the candidates and their advisers will consent, but my guess is they’ll offer surrogates (although I’ll happily be proved wrong).

John Tierney, over at TierneyLab, asked readers back in December to suggest questions. I posted on the debate prospect when David Goldston, who spent 20 years in the science-policy tussle on Capitol Hill, said it could backfire.

The organizers of the debate have been accumulating thousands of endorsements — including those of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science — and hundreds of possible questions, as well, which can be explored on their Web site.

The site contains reams of useful background provided by the organizers, who include two screenwriters, one of whom is a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin (whose 199th birthday happens to be Tuesday), and the science blogger and author Chris Mooney.

If you were an adviser to one of the front-tier candidates, what would you suggest?