Presidential Candidates Answer Science Questions

Last month we wrote Science Questions for Presidential Candidates, about a coalition of fifty-six leading U.S. nonpartisan organizations, representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers, that were calling on U.S. Presidential candidates to address a set of twenty major issues in science, engineering, technology, health and the environment.

Surprise — they answered! EurekAlert, the online news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), reports: US presidential candidates answer research consortium’s science, engineering, technology, health, and environmental questions. They say:

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Jill Stein [the Green Party’s candidate] had all responded as of press time, and the group was awaiting responses from Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

We’re only interested here in the responses of Trump and Clinton. EurekAlert gives us a link to the candidates’ answers at the website of the group that proposed the questions.

In our earlier post we reviewed the 20 questions and said:

Evolution and creationism are nowhere on the list. That’s understandable, because there’s nothing in the President’s constitutional duties that specifically depends on them. … Some seem to refer, at least indirectly, to The Controversy between evolution and creationism. Others interest your Curmudgeon because the customary party split seen on creationism often goes into reverse on those topics. In that context we’re thinking of nuclear power and space exploration.

You’ll may want to read all the answers to all the questions, but here are the questions that interested us, along with the answers of Trump and Clinton. Trump’s answers are brief, so we can give those to you in their entirety. Clinton’s answers were longer, so in most cases we’ll give you excerpts from those:

Question 1. Innovation: Science and engineering have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII. But some reports question America’s continued leadership in these areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of innovation?

Clinton’s Answer

Advances in science and engineering start with education. We need universal preschool, to get our kids off to a good start; good K-12 schools and teachers in every ZIP code; and to put higher education in reach for everyone with debt-free college and support for high-quality apprenticeships and training programs. We need strong STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] programming in every school, and we need to provide every public school student with access to education in computer science.

Both basic and applied research are major drivers of innovation. As President, I will work with Congress to ensure that government funding of research is sufficient to allow for multi-year planning, exploration of emerging research areas, and inflation-adjusted costs. Funding is needed not only for the basic science research agencies and the large science and engineering mission agencies but also for the broader universe of agencies that are increasingly dependent on STEM for their missions.

Trump’s Answer

Innovation has always been one of the great by-products of free market systems. Entrepreneurs have always found entries into markets by giving consumers more options for the products they desire. The government should do all it can to reduce barriers to entry into markets and should work at creating a business environment where fair trade is as important as free trade. Similarly, the federal government should encourage innovation in the areas of space exploration and investment in research and development across the broad landscape of academia. Though there are increasing demands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget, we must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous.

Question 2. Research: Many scientific advances require long-term investment to fund research over a period of longer than the two, four, or six year terms that govern political cycles. 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’s Answer

Historically, federally funded basic research – often done without a particular application in mind and intrinsically long term–has yielded breakthrough discoveries of new knowledge and technologies. This knowledge and these technologies have, through the power of innovation, transformed entire sectors of industry, fueled economic growth, and created high-paying jobs.I share the concerns of the science and technology community, including many in the industry, that the United States is underinvesting in research. Federal funding of basic research amounts to less than one percent of annual federal spending, yet it is an investment that pays big dividends. I believe it is essential that we strengthen our research capacity, by funding talented young investigators, looking for ways to prioritize “high-risk, high-reward” projects that have the potential to transform entire fields, and enhancing partnerships between government, universities, and the private sector.

Trump’s Answer

The premise of this question is exactly correct — scientific advances do require long term investment. This is why we must have programs such as a viable space program and institutional research that serve as incubators to innovation and the advancement of science and engineering in a number of fields. We should also bring together stakeholders and examine what the priorities ought to be for the nation. Conservation of resources and finding ways to feed the world beg our strong commitment as do dedicated investment in making the world a healthier place. The nation is best served by a President and administration that have a vision for a greater, better America.

Question 8. Education: American students have fallen in many international rankings of science and math performance, and the public in general is being faced with an expanding array of major policy challenges that are heavily influenced by complex science. How would your administration work to ensure all students including women and minorities are prepared to address 21st century challenges and, further, that the public has an adequate level of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] literacy in an age dominated by complex science and technology?

Clinton’s Answer

Strong STEM programming in every public school is critical to our nation’s success and to reducing economic and social inequality. But today, less than 40 percent of high school graduates have taken a physics course, and the lack of STEM programming is even more pronounced in schools with high concentrations of students of color. … Beyond high school, we need to do more support the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions that train a large share of scientists and engineers of color. In addition to making it possible for every student to attend a four-year public college or university debt-free,

Trump’s Answer

There are a host of STEM programs already in existence. What the federal government should do is to make sure that educational opportunities are available for everyone. This means we must allow market influences to bring better, higher quality educational circumstances to more children. Our cities are a case-study in what not to do in that we do not have choice options for those who need access to better educational situations. Our top-down-one-size-fits-all approach to education is failing and is actually damaging educational outcomes for our children. If we are serious about changing the direction of our educational standing, we must change our educational models and allow the greatest possible number of options for educating our children. The management of our public education institutions should be done at the state and local level, not at the Department of Education. Until more choices are provided in our cities, those who tout their concern about educational outcomes cannot be taken seriously.

Question 11. Nuclear Power: Nuclear power can meet electricity demand without producing greenhouse gases, but it raises national security and environmental concerns. What is your plan for the use, expansion, or phasing out of nuclear power, and what steps will you take to monitor, manage and secure nuclear materials over their life cycle?

Clinton’s Answer

Meeting the climate challenge is too important to limit the tools available in this fight. Nuclear power – which accounts for more than 60 percent of our zero carbon power generation today – is one of those tools. I will work to ensure that the climate benefits of our existing nuclear power plants that are safe to operate are appropriately valued and increase investment in the research, development and deployment of advanced nuclear power. At the same time, we must continue to invest in the security of our nuclear materials at home, and improve coordination between federal, state, and local authorities. We must also seek to reduce the amount of nuclear material worldwide – working with other countries so minimize the use of weapons-grade material for civil nuclear programs.

Trump’s Answer

Nuclear power is a valuable source of energy and should be part of an all-the-above program for providing power for America long into the future. We can make nuclear power safer, and its outputs are extraordinary given the investment we should make. Nuclear power must be an integral part of energy independence for America.

Question 16. Space: There is a political debate over America’s national approach to space exploration and use. What should America’s national goals be for space exploration and earth observation from space, and what steps would your administration take to achieve them?

Clinton’s Answer

As president, my administration will build on this progress, promote innovation, and advance inspirational, achievable, and affordable space initiatives. We must maintain our nation’s leadership in space with a program that balances science, technology and exploration; protect our security and the future of the planet through international collaboration and Earth systems monitoring; expand our robotic presence in the solar system; and maximize the impact of our R&D and other space program investments by promoting stronger coordination across federal agencies, and cooperation with industry. I will work with Congress to ensure that NASA has the leadership, funding and operational flexibility necessary to work in new ways with industry, placing emphasis on inventing and employing new technologies and efficiencies to get more bang for the buck while creating jobs and growing the American economy.

Trump’s Answer

Space exploration has given so much to America, including tremendous pride in our scientific and engineering prowess. A strong space program will encourage our children to seek STEM educational outcomes and will bring millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in investment to this country. The cascading effects of a vibrant space program are legion and can have a positive, constructive impact on the pride and direction of this country. Observation from space and exploring beyond our own space neighborhood should be priorities. We should also seek global partners, because space is not the sole property of America. All humankind benefits from reaching into the stars.

Question 20. Scientific Integrity: Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy, but that is predicated on the integrity of that evidence and of the scientific process used to produce it, which must be both transparent and free from political bias and pressure. 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’s Answer

The work done by scientists at federal agencies is critical for shaping our policies on health, environment, food and drug safety, national security, and many other issues. The scientific and technological information and processes relied upon in policymaking must be of the highest integrity to engender public trust in government. As president, I will support efforts to ensure a culture of scientific integrity in each of our science-based agencies, strengthen the credibility of government research, and facilitate open communication and public engagement. I am deeply concerned by the recent increase in partisan political efforts to interfere in science. I strongly support the free exchange of ideas and data, peer review, and public access to research results and other scientific information, all of which can help protect science-based policy decisions from undue influence from special interests.

Trump’s Answer

Science is science and facts are facts. My administration will ensure that there will be total transparency and accountability without political bias. The American people deserve this and I will make sure this is the culture of my administration.

So there you are. What does your Curmudgeon make of it? Neither candidate is a scientist. Both obviously had staff assistance in drafting their replies. Nothing we saw was blatantly offensive to us, which is a relief, but Clinton emphasized the role of government, while Trump occasionally mentioned free-market incentives. Otherwise, there’s nothing remarkable here.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “Presidential Candidates Answer Science Questions

  1. I’ve just been reading the complete set of responses on the Scientific American website, where for some reason they seem to be given in more complete form — essentially, without the omission of the opening paras of Clinton’s replies.

    There are some important answers on climate change, biodiversity and energy which, I think, should not be overlooked:

    3. Climate Change

    The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?

    Hillary Clinton (D): When it comes to climate change, the science is crystal clear. Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time and its impacts are already being felt at home and around the world. That’s why as President, I will work both domestically and internationally to ensure that we build on recent progress and continue to slash greenhouse gas pollution over the coming years as the science clearly tells us we must.

    I will set three goals that we will achieve within ten years of taking office and which will make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century:

    [] Generate half of our electricity from clean sources, with half a billion solar panels installed by the end of my first term.
    [] Cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals and offices by a third and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.
    [] Reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.

    To get there, my administration will implement and build on the range of pollution and efficiency standards and clean energy tax incentives that have made the United States a global leader in the battle against climate change. These standards are also essential for protecting the health of our children, saving American households and businesses billions of dollars in energy costs, and creating thousands of good paying jobs.

    These standards set the floor, not the ceiling. As President, I will launch a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to partner with those states, cities, and rural communities across the country that are ready to take the lead on clean energy and energy efficiency, giving them the flexibility, tools and resources they need to succeed.

    Donald Trump (R): There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.” Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water. Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria. Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population. Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels. We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer and more prosperous.

    4. Biodiversity

    Biological diversity provides food, fiber, medicines, clean water and many other products and services on which we depend every day. Scientists are finding that the variety and variability of life is diminishing at an alarming rate as a result of human activity. What steps will you take to protect biological diversity?

    Hillary Clinton (D): Conserving biodiversity is essential to maintaining our quality of life. Healthy soils provide the foundation for agricultural productivity and help absorb carbon; wetlands soak up floodwaters and pollutants and protect our communities; forests filter our water and keep it clean; bees and other pollinators are essential to our food supply; and coral reefs and coastal marshes are nurseries for our fisheries. Although we have made considerable progress protecting our environment and conserving our natural resources, climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, unsustainable management practices, introduction of invasive species and other forces pose serious threats to biodiversity and our way of life.

    We need to collaborate across all sectors and at all levels to conserve our natural resources and maintain the viability of our ecosystems. I believe, for example, that we should be doing more to slow and reverse the decline of at-risk wildlife species before they reach the brink of extinction. That is why I will work to double the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program to help states, tribal nations, and local communities act earlier to conserve wildlife before they become threatened or endangered.

    The 100th anniversary of our national park system is also an opportunity to re-energize America’s proud land and wildlife conservation traditions. I will establish an American Parks Trust Fund to scale up and modernize how we protect and enhance our natural treasures, and to better protect wildlife habitat across the country.

    Internationally, we need greater cooperation to address declining biodiversity. My Administration will work collaboratively with other nations to advance biodiversity science, further our understanding of the causes of biodiversity loss, and take action to diminish them. We will share information about our conservation successes, including our national parks, fish and wildlife refuge systems, and marine reserves to aid other nations working to protect their natural resources and conserve biodiversity. And we will work collaboratively to end trafficking in wildlife and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that threatens our oceans.

    Donald Trump (R): For too long, Presidents and the executive branch of our federal government have continued to expand their reach and impact. Today, we have agencies filled with unelected officials who have been writing rules and regulations that cater to special interests and that undermine the foundational notion of our government that should be responsive to the people. Our elected representatives have done little to uphold their oaths of office and have abrogated their responsibilities. When these circumstances occur, there is an imbalance that rewards special interests and punishes the people who should benefit the most from the protection of species and habitat in the United States. In a Trump administration, there will be shared governance of our public lands and we will empower state and local governments to protect our wildlife and fisheries. Laws that tilt the scales toward special interests must be modified to balance the needs of society with the preservation of our valuable living resources. My administration will strike that balance by bringing all stakeholders to the table to determine the best approach to seeking and setting that balance.

    7. Energy

    Strategic management of the US energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?

    Hillary Clinton (D): The next decade is not only critical to meeting the climate challenge, but offers a tremendous opportunity to ensure America becomes a 21st century clean energy superpower. I reject the notion that we as a country are forced to choose between our economy, our environment, and our security. The truth is that with a smart energy policy we can advance all three simultaneously. I will set the following bold, national goals—and get to work on Day 1, implementing my plan to achieve them within ten years of taking office:

    [] Generate half of our electricity from clean sources, with half a billion solar panels installed by the end of my first term.
    [] Cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals and offices by a third and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.
    [] Reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.

    My plan will deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference—without relying on climate deniers in Congress to pass new legislation. This includes:

    [] Defending, implementing, and extending smart pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan and standards for cars, trucks, and appliances that are already helping clean our air, save families money, and fight climate change.
    [] Launching a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to partner with states, cities, and rural communities to cut carbon pollution and expand clean energy, including for low-income families.
    [] Investing in clean energy infrastructure, innovation, manufacturing and workforce development to make the U.S. economy more competitive and create good-paying jobs and careers.
    [] Ensuring the fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible and that areas too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.
    [] Reforming leasing and expand clean energy production on public lands and waters tenfold within a decade.
    [] Cutting the billions of wasteful tax subsidies oil and gas companies have enjoyed for too long and invest in clean energy.
    [] Cutting methane emissions across the economy and put in place strong standards for reducing leaks from both new and existing sources.
    [] Revitalizing coal communities by supporting locally driven priorities and make them an engine of U.S. economic growth in the 21st century, as they have been for generations.

    Donald Trump (R): It should be the goal of the American people and their government to achieve energy independence as soon as possible. Energy independence means exploring and developing every possible energy source including wind, solar, nuclear and bio-fuels. A thriving market system will allow consumers to determine the best sources of energy for future consumption. Further, with the United States, Canada and Mexico as the key energy producers in the world, we will live in a safer, more productive and more prosperous world.


    As you say, these were obviously responses crafted by the staff rather than the principals. I find the Trump responses on climate change,biodiversity and energy absolutely terrifying.

  2. Not to mention his response on education…

  3. There is also the complete lack of detail in trumps responses. Clinton outlined plans and programs. Trump had very little.

    Also trump is anti-vax and has shown sympathies to anti-GMO. So his plan to stop sickness and hunger in the third world is empty promises at best.

    I’m kinda disappointed that they didn’t ask trump about the age of the earth. He supports just about every other conspiracy theory. What is one more.

  4. Too bad we don’t have Gary Johnson’s responses. I just saw him speak tonight at Purdue University in a forum sponsored by Purdue president and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. I was very impressed by the rationality and common sense of Johnson, who, like Daniels, was a two-term governor of his state (New Mexico), and thus has government executive experience. There were so many people lined up to ask questions behind the two microphones I wasn’t able to ask him his stand on climate change (pretty sure he’s rational about evolution and age of the Earth), but his answers to other questions were rational and non-evasive — in other words, he actually answered the question! So many pols use a question as a springboard to their favorite rant. Johnson didn’t do that — very refreshing.
    Former Republican governor, now Libertarian; for free markets, free trade and personal liberty (would legalize marijuana at the federal level); and is not a religious zealot.

    Sounds like your kinda guy, Curmy! Wish you could have been there. He had a good line — “A wasted vote is one cast for a candidate you don’t believe in.”

    No particular bearing on how he’d do as president, but Gary Johnson has climbed the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. Guess he’s in pretty good shape.

  5. Charles Deetz ;)

    Why is Trump answering these questions when he said just a week or so ago, that ‘the only issue we should be addressing is immigration’. Oh, and the repeated ‘perhaps’ replies he gives only confirms my first assertion that he should have kept his yap shut about science.

  6. (Allegedly) Donald Trump:
    “The cascading effects of a vibrant space program are legion and can have a positive, constructive impact…
    …that undermine the foundational notion of our government…
    …have abrogated their responsibilities…
    …balance the needs of society with the preservation of our valuable living resources…”

    Do these phrases sound like something The Donald would say? Nah — I didn’t think so either.

    “Cascading effects”? “Foundational notion”?? “Abrogated their responsibilities”??? Gimme a break!

  7. RSG TRUE if a 4th grader wouldn’t say it Trump wouldn’t either. Trump didn’t write “Art of the Deal” either, and his ghostwriter firmly denounces Trump. This was early enough in Trump’s rise to prominence that there weren’t a lot of legal non-disclosure agreements so the guy could speak his mind.