Since the presidential election in 2008, the nonpartisan nonprofit organization ScienceDebate.org and a coalition of 56 prominent scientific societies, including the ASBMB, has aimed to provide Americans with presidential candidates’ views on important issues related to science, engineering, technology, health and environment. In early 2016, sciencedebate.org and the coalition started a nationwide petition urging the major party candidates to hold a debate on these issues.
However, with both parties policies stating any candidate engaging in a nonsanctioned debate will be prohibited from taking part in future sanctioned debates, as well as there only being 55 days left until the general election Nov. 8, the logistics of sanctioning and conducting a scientific debate prior to the election are nearly impossible. Therefore, sciencedebate.org compiled a list of 20 frequently asked questions by the coalition societies and submitted them to each candidate’s campaign. On Sept. 13, they released answers from the three candidates who responded; Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton, Republican nominee Donald Trump, and Green Party nominee Jill Stein. Questions were sent to Libertarian Party nominee, Gary Johnson, however his campaign did not provide answers to the questions.
For the sake of this post, I will focus solely on questions related to biomedical research. While questions concerning nuclear energy, climate change, biodiversity and space exploration are important to the global scientific community and the progression of technological innovation in America, I wanted to narrow our focus on the issues directly related to our society’s core values.
In this post, I will examine answers provided by Clinton and Trump, as they are the two frontrunners in this year’s election. The goal of this piece is to consolidate the candidate responses into an easily digestible format, allowing you, the voter, to make an educated decision on whom would serve the scientific community best as the next president.
Full-length answers to all the questions, including those related to science, engineering, technology, health and environment, can be found here.
Question 1: Innovation – What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of innovation?
Sec. Clinton stresses that education and research are the key to America’s success. She wants to strengthen the education system from preschool on up, make higher education affordable, and provide all students with access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. Her campaign explains her views on the importance of both basic and applied research, saying that she will work with Congress to ensure steady elevation of government funding for research, making multiyear research planning possible. She believes that innovation comes from commercialization of research results and stresses the importance of technology transfer. Additionally, she will push for open-access and sharing of government-funded research results.
Trump states that innovation is a byproduct of the free-market system. He believes the government should encourage innovation in areas like space exploration and R&D though the landscape of academia. He states that the government should invest in, “science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous.”
Question 2: Research – In the current climate of budgetary constraints, what are your science and engineering research priorities, and how will you balance short-term versus long-term funding?
Clinton states that advancing science and technology will be among her highest priorities if elected president. She shares the concerns of many in the scientific community that the U.S. is not investing enough money into research endeavors. She proposes enhancing partnerships between government, universities and the private sector, while investing in talented young investigators in a “high-risk, high-reward” capacity.
Trump agrees that scientific advancement requires long-term investments. He states that stakeholders need to come together to determine what the priorities are for our nation. Trump says the space program and institutional research are incubators for innovation. He stresses conservation of resources and worldwide hunger as areas that need strong commitment.
Question 3: Public health – How would you improve federal research and our public-health system to better protect Americans from emerging diseases and other public-health threats, such as antibiotic-resistant superbugs?
Clinton acknowledged that there is a lack of investment in public health preparedness and emergency response despite the growing number of recent public health threats. She says, as president, she will create a “Public Health Rapid Response Fund” with consistent year-to-year budgets to provide the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other state and local health departments the necessary funds to quickly respond to future health pandemics. Additionally, she says research for new diagnostic tests, therapeutic treatments and vaccines will be vital in boosting our nation’s preparedness for biological threats or bioterrorism attacks.
Trump states that we cannot simply thrown money at scientific institutions and assume this will better serve the nation. He says that in this time of limited resources, we need to get the “greatest bang for the buck.” Trump says his administration will determine what areas, in terms of support for research and public health initiatives, are highest priority to balance other agencies’ demands with the lack of federal resources, contradicting his previous answer, where he called for stakeholders to determine the nation’s priorities.
Question 4: Regulations – How would science inform your administration’s decisions to add, modify or remove federal regulations, and how would you encourage a thriving business sector while protecting Americans vulnerable to public-health and environmental threats?
Clinton stresses that environmental, health and energy regulations should continue using the best science available when guiding decisions on what areas to invest in. She mentions continuing to invest in disease research, citing Alzheimer’s disease and the Cancer “moonshot” initiative as areas of importance. She states that science will “ensure our country continues to progress and will help our government use its resources to provide the best possible life for all Americans.”
Again, Trump stresses the importance of a free-market system. He states that science will inform our decisions on what regulations to keep or remove.
Question 5: Scientific integrity – How will you foster a culture of scientific transparency and accountability in government, while protecting scientists and federal agencies from political interference in their work?
Clinton supports efforts to ensure a culture of scientific integrity that would strengthen credibility of research results and open public communication and engagement. She supports free exchange of ideas and data, peer review and public access to research results as ways to protect science policy decisions from partisan politics. She also believes that scientific fraud, whether it be falsifying results or misuse of federal funds, should be exposed, punished and prevented.
“Science is science, and facts are facts.” Trump states his administration will have total transparency and accountability without government bias.
Sciencedebate.org and its collaborating coalition have done the scientific community a great service providing insight in to how the candidates value the issues in our industry.
A major theme became evident when analyzing the candidate responses: a stark contrast in presentation of substantive scientific policies. Clinton consistently provided thorough responses containing specific examples, as well as scientific policies she would instill, whereas Trump regularly provided short-worded responses, stressing the importance of doing something, without providing specific policies he would enact.
While lack of transparency from the Trump campaign has been common during the election, this is the first time we have seen it in relation to scientific issues. Trump’s inability to provide specific actions he would undertake, in addition to his dodging of certain questions, including vaccination and climate change, raises concerns for those of us in the scientific community.
While we hope questions on scientific research and innovation are frequently asked in the coming weeks, we feel this is a great starting point, allowing scientists and researchers to better determine which candidates will best serve the science community’s needs as the next president of the United States.