Science Issues 2016: Trump vs. Clinton

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

The 2016 presidential election has been conspicuously light on substance, particularly on matters of science and policy. In an effort to provide some clarity to voters who place an emphasis on science, we have created a chart that scores the presumptive Republican and Democratic Party candidates on key scientific issues. Please keep in mind three major caveats.

First, the chart is purposefully simplified. Our scoring system is based on whether or not, in general, the candidate supports mainstream scientific views on specific topics and/or any relevant policies that would be favored by the scientific community. We explain our scoring decisions immediately below the chart. (Note: A checkmark indicates that the candidate supports mainstream science and/or policies favored by the scientific community.)

Second, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have demonstrated, at best, a casual relationship with the truth. Both have made contradictory statements and, in the case of Mrs. Clinton, have endorsed contradictory policies while in office. Thus, our judgment calls involve a dose of speculation and subjectivity.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, there are many reasons other than science to vote for or against a candidate. So, this analysis should not be considered as an endorsement.

Having said that, here is how we scored the candidates on science policy:

Vaccines. In a primary debate, Donald Trump repeated the long-debunked myth that vaccines cause autism. Though during the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton made a similar comment, in 2016, she wised up and tweeted her unambiguous support for vaccines: “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest.”

Climate change. The current consensus as elaborated by the IPCC AR5 (PDF page 5) is that humans are responsible for more than half of the increase in global temperature. However, Trump does not believe humans play a major role in climate change and has called global warming a hoax. On the other hand, Clinton supports the science on climate change (though, we may squabble with her individual policy positions).

Energy. Though some of Trump’s views on energy are rather inconsistent, he sensibly believes that both natural gas and nuclear power should be a part of America’s energy equation. Though the Democratic Party’s track record on energy is not good, Clinton appears modestly in favor of fracking and supports advanced nuclear technology.

GMOs. Trump hasn’t said much about GMOs, but what he has tweeted is disconcerting. When Ben Carson took a lead in the Iowa polls, Trump tweeted: “#BenCarson is now leading in the #polls in #Iowa. Too much #Monsanto in the #corn creates issues in the brain?” Clinton has waffled on GMOs, at times supporting them, but at other times blocking legislation that banned mandatory labels. Thus, she may not be a reliable advocate for GMO technology.

NASA/Space. It is difficult to tell what Trump would do in regard to NASA and space funding. As Hank Campbell and I wrote for USA Today, it would be easy to imagine Trump supporting big projects, like building a colony on the moon. On the other hand, he believes we ought to fix our dilapidating infrastructure before embarking on big projects, like going to Mars, which is not unreasonable. Clinton is supportive of the space program.

Evidence-based medicine. Both candidates support alternative medicine and various forms of quackery. According to Daily Beast, Trump peddled a urine test which he claimed could help design personalized vitamin regimens, described as a “scam” by a Harvard doctor. Clinton sought advice from alternative health practitioners on healthcare reform.

Biomedical research. Other than calling the NIH “terrible,” Trump has had little to say about funding research for the biomedical sciences. On embryonic stem cell research, Trump told the Des Moines Register, “I’d like to get back to you.” Clinton, to the contrary, is unambiguously in favor of increasing funding to the NIH and NSF, and she has also supported stem cell research.