From the Internet to bioscience and energy, science and technology touch nearly every aspect of our lives. Below, a look at the positions of the five remaining Republican presidential candidates on seven different science and technology policy issues: (1) emergency contraception, (2) biological evolution, (3) climate change, (4) shale gas, (5) nuclear power and waste disposal, (6) space exploration, and (7) the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The candidates are listed in order they are currently polling: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Rick Perry.
Emergency Contraception: The science question here is contraception versus abortion? Most research finds that the common method of emergency contraception—taking high dose hormone pills after coitus—works by interfering with ovulation, not implantation. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney in 2005 vetoed a bill that would make the morning-after pill available over the counter in that state and require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. The legislature overturned his veto. During a recent debate in New Hampshire, Romney was asked if states had the right to ban contraception. He replied, “I can’t imagine that states would want to ban contraception. If I were a governor or a legislator in a state, I would totally oppose any effort to ban contraception. So you’re asking—given the fact that there’s no state that wants to do so—you are asking could it constitutionally be done?” Of course, before the Supreme Court decided Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, states did ban contraception.
Biological Evolution: In 2007, he stated, “I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe.” Romney added, “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.” While governor of Massachusetts, he opposed the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.
Climate Change: Flip-flopper? In his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, Romney wrote, “I believe that climate change is occurring—the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to factors out of our control.” In an October 2011 speech in Pennsylvania, the former governor became more skeptical: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
Shale Gas: Romney welcomes shale gas production. “In Pennsylvania and neighboring states, we are seeing the tremendous benefits that domestic energy development can confer," he said. "Tapping the Marcellus shale deposits promises not only to supply clean and inexpensive energy to our country for the next century but also to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”
Safety of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Waste Disposal: in an October poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans favor nuclear power and think it safe. Most experts believe that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada could safely store waste for up to one million years. In his 2010 book, No Apology, the candidate argues, “Nuclear power is a win-win; it's a domestic energy source with zero greenhouse emissions.” Of course, if climate change is not a problem then it’s just a “win.” During the Republican debate in Las Vegas, Romney opposed the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal facility not on safety grounds, but due to local opposition, saying that the “people of Nevada ought to have the final say as to whether they want [it].” He also suggested that states might bid for taking a waste storage facility with adequate compensation.
Space Exploration: In the December 10 debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Romney declared that he was opposed to Newt Gingrich’s idea of establishing lunar mining colonies. However, back in 2008, Romney said, "I support the NASA program, the president’s vision program, which consists of a manned space mission back to the moon, as well as an ongoing mission to Mars." He was talking about President George W. Bush's proposals for a moon colony and a mission to Mars. Flip-flop?
SOPA: The Stop Online Piracy Act would enable censorship of the Internet in the guise of protecting copyright. At a New Hampshire campaign stop last month, a small business owner asked Romney what he thought of SOPA and he responded that he was against regulations that kill business. Mark this down as ambiguously against.
Emergency Contraception: Gingrich, like Santorum, Perry, and Paul has signed the Personhood USA Pledge in favor of an amendment to the Constitution recognizing embryos as people. In December, Gingrich stumbled with the pro-life folks, when he said that life begins at “implantation” instead of at “conception.” He quickly backtracked. At an Iowa campaign event, a young woman told Gingrich, “I’m just a little concerned because I personally use birth control. And some forms of birth control would be outlawed if those personhood laws became the law of the land. So, do you support birth control, all forms of birth control?” Gingrich replied, “Any kind of pre-conception birth control would be legal. But I think post-conception birth control would be a form of abortion.” As noted above, most research does not support the notion that morning-after contraceptive pills prevent post-conception implantation.
Biological Evolution: Asked in 2006 by Discover magazine if he regarded evolution as “just a theory,” Gingrich replied, “Evolution certainly seems to express the closest understanding we can now have.” With regard to teaching intelligent design in public schools, Gingrich added, “I believe evolution should be taught as science, and intelligent design should be taught as philosophy.”
Climate Change: Another flip-flopper? Gingrich famously did a 30-second television spot with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in which he argued, “We do agree that our country must take action to address climate change.” His 2007 book, Contract With the Earth, declared “climate change is supported by a wealth of scientific data derived from a diversity of measurement techniques,” but added the he could not “be certain about the variance introduced by distinctly human activities." His views have evidently evolved. He announced a few days ago that a chapter by a Texas atmospheric scientist commissioned for his upcoming book on environmental entrepreneurs would be cut.
Shale Gas: In a February 2011 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Gingrich stated, “We now have technology that let’s us go down as far as 8,000 feet, reach out as far as four miles horizontally. We can now produce commercially available natural gas from shale. We have an 1,100-year supply." In characteristic Gingrichian fashion, the former Speaker overstated the resources by 10-fold, but he is obviously enthusiastic about abundant natural gas supplies.
Safety of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Waste: In the 1990s as Speaker of the House, Gingrich spearheaded establishing the Yucca Mountain waste disposal site over President Bill Clinton’s objections. During the recent Las Vegas candidate debate, he tempered his views. “When I was in Congress," he said, "I worked with the Nevada delegation to make sure that there was time for scientific studies. But we have to find some method of finding a very geologically stable place, and most geologists believe that, in fact, Yucca Mountain is that.” With regard to nuclear power production, he favors streamlining regulations and focusing on the development of “a whole new generation of very small nuclear power plants, that are very, very safe.” During a question and answer session at The Washington Post in 2007, when Contract With the Earth was released, Gingrich stated, "I would incentivize dismantling the oldest coal plants and building new nuclear plants. We may be able to get to a clean coal technology, but not in the near future. In the near future nuclear is a much better investment." Incentivize?