Sciencedebate.org has managed a seemingly impossible task. They developed 20 distinct (but often interrelated) questions about science policy, based on vast amounts of public input, and then got all four presidential candidates to address them. Congratulations to Sciencedebate.org. This is important, and I know that was not easy to do. The questions, and answers, are here.
Here are my reactions to the candidates responses for some of the questions.
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 acknowledges and outlines post World War II innovation and its payoffs. She links this innovation to education, and advocates for preschool and good K-12 in every zip code, which implies good schools regardless of socioeconomic status of the local school’s catchment. She seems to imply that one does both applied and basic research, because both pay of. She supports technology transfer.
Trump indicates that innovation is great. He makes the claim that innovation is a by product of free market systems, and claims that most innovation comes form entrepreneurs. He does support maintaining or raising taxes to fund science, engineering, and healthcare, in order to make Americans more prosperous.
Johnson insists that a robust economy precedes innovation. His primary policy recommendation to enhance scientific innovation is to reduce taxes, and calls for the government to step away from meddling with the true innovators, scientists, engineers, buisnes people, and hobbyists. He wants to dramtically reform the granting process, using as the exclusive means of determining grant worthiness the frequency of ideas in given areas at the grassroots level. So, he notes that even if it is apparent that we need research to stop a flu epidemic, if the majority of researchers want to address alcohol abuse then so be it.
He also intends to reform how universities hire and fund researchers, and the universities’ overhead system.
Stein claims that almost every part of her 2016 platform will cause positive effects in innovation. By reducing Pentagon spending, Stein will free up a lot of money for research and development, by transferring that money to millions of currently underemployed people, who will then innovate.
Clearly, Trump and Johnson want a mostly hands off policy, and neither shows much understanding of how research works. Also, Johnson claims he will do something a president can’t do (change the way universities handle overhead and grants).
Stein wishes to use a peace dividend, and that’s great. If we could reduce Pentagon spending and use that money for other stuff, I’m all for that. However, Stein did not appear to address the question of innovation specifically. Also, I’m not sure how transferring funds form the Pentagon to the masses produces the sort of outcome implied by this question.
Clinton demonstrates a nuanced and clear knowledge of the topic at hand, and pretty much wins this debate because of her support for both basic and applied research. First, she knows what they are, and recognizes these issues as, clearly, part of the question. Second, she recognizes the importance of basic research. I personally think we do too much technology transfer, an we’ve fetishized the role of spin-off businesses in research and development. I’d like to see us go back to a somewhat more, but modernized, system of funding public research, and letting the private sector benefit from it without stomping on the backs of private citizens with such chicanery as $600 epi pens. But that may be just me.
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?
Clinton gives, probably, the best answer because it is both aggressive and reasonably specific and doable. She wants us to get to 50% non carbon by the end of her first term, cut waste, and make larger scale transport more efficient, right away.
She does not address the supply side of energy sufficiently, and needs to do so. In a sense, Clinton is lucky in this debate, because the only other candidate who took the question seriously, Jill Stein, is not one of the major party candidates.
Trump put the term “Climate Change” in quotes. That is an insult to sciencedebate.org, the other candidates, and to humanity. His answer is right out of the Bjorn Lomborg playbook, and deserves no further consideration from me at this time.
Johnson “accepts that climate change is occurring” as though that mattered, or gave him points. Of course he accepts that climate change is occurring. Good for you, noticing that. But seriously, we are far beyond the point, especially in the context of a science debate, of taking positions of climate change being real, bigfoot not being real, evolution being real, aliens not being real, etc. So, no, please. Otherwise, Johnson notes that the things that cause climate change are all good things, and we don’t want to get rid of them. But, the market place will take care of them anyway. And, anyway, other countries are going to be producing more greenhouse gas pollution so we can’t do much about it. So, no, bad answer, about as bad as Trump’s
Stein has a long and detailed list of proposals, mostly funded by cutting the Pentagon budget. The strongest part of her policy is that we need to adopt a major, New Deal level (she calls it a Green New Deal) approach to climate change, and jsut get it done. She ties her climate change policies together with environmental justice programs. She proposes the Paris Treaty, by not by name, but we already have that. She supports organic farming and related efforts which may or may not help with climate change, but are sort of off topic.
A good number of her policies are bogus, a good number are good, many are diluted by great sounding link ups to social justice and democracy and stuff, which I like, but which make the policies not arguable at the national level. I like the fact that she put so much out there, even if I don’t agree with a lot of it.
Only Clinton and Stein took this question seriously. Clinton’s answer is good but not enough, Stein’s answer is weak in many areas but has potential.
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?
The candidates’ answers on energy follow the same pattern as with climate change, so this can be brief.
Clinton: Details, doable, fairly aggressive, specific. Doesn’t sufficiently attack key supply side problems like pipelines and fracking.
Stein: Redirect funds and bring it to the people, and that should solve everything. On a more specific level, Stein addresses the supply side aggressively, ending subsidies, banning fracking, etc.
The other two guys: Something something something free market something somethings prosperity.
The same pattern emerges across most of the answers with all of the candidates. Stein is more idealistic, and plans to bring the resources to the masses (free school, everybody gets a job, etc) paid for by stealing form the rich (including the Pentagon) and redistributing to the poor. I fully agree with all of that. No one will win on that ticket. Stein also gave a pretty darn acceptable commentary on vaccines, by the way. The Facebook Memes about her being anti-vax are either overdone, or she’s moderated. Clinton provides the most professional answers, most doable, and consistently demonstrates that she knows a lot about the issues. I would hire her to be president, if that was a thing, but I’d sit down with her to adjust some details. But she would not need any training.
Tump and Johnson put most of their faith on the free market, entrepreneurs, and the mysteries magnetic properties of prosperity. I was not impressed by either of them.