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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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,
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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