The Democratic Party's Science and Technology Policy Platform

What the Dems think about sex education, fracking, climate change, drilling, renewables, R&D 'investments,' and much more.

Technological progress has been responsible for about half of U.S. economic growth since the end of the Second World War. Consequently, what the federal government does about science and technology policy significantly affects the prospects for future American prosperity.  The 2012 Democratic Party Platform lays out progressive views on how government should aid and direct science and technology policy. Since the Obama administration has been in power for four years, it is also useful to take a look back at how well or ill the sci-tech promises in the 2008 Platform have fared.

Research and Development

In its 2008 platform, the Democratic Party declared, “Research should be based on science, not ideology.” The 2008 Platform also promised to “increase funding to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Cancer Institutes,” as well as to “double federal funding for basic research.”

Did the Obama administration keep these promises? The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has analyzed trends in federal R&D spending. In constant 2012 dollars, the AAAS finds that National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding has fallen from $31.2 billion in 2009 to $30 billion in 2012. On the other hand, National Science Foundation (NSF) spending rose from $5 billion to $5.6 billion. Overall total federal R&D has dropped from $152.6 billion in 2009 to $140.5 billion in 2012. The AAAS calculates that federal basic research funding rose from $29.5 billion in 2009 to $30.2 in 2012. Note that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave a one-time $20 billion boost to federal R&D in 2009. For what it’s worth, in constant dollars total federal R&D spending peaked under the George W. Bush administration in 2007 at $154.4 billion.  

The 2012 Democratic Platform commits once again to “doubling funding for key basic research agencies.” On a bipartisan note, the Democrats, like the Republicans, “support expanding and making permanent the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit.” After all, industry accounts for more than 70 percent of all U.S. R&D expenditures.

Sex Education

In both the 2008 and 2012 Platforms, the Democrats support “age-appropriate sex education.” In a dig at the Republican Platform’s support for “abstinence education,” the 2012 Democratic platform calls for “evidence-based” sex education. In both the 2008 and 2012 Platforms, the Democrats assert, “[s]uch health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” As background, the abortion rate has fallen from 24 per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in the 1980s and has remained stable for the past decade at 16 per 1,000 women.

Stem Cells

In its 2008 platform, the Democratic Party promised, “We will lift the current Administration's ban on using federal funding for embryonic stem cells – cells that would have otherwise have been discarded and lost forever – for research that could save lives.” Strictly speaking, the Bush administration hadn’t banned research on embryonic stem cells, but had limited federal funding to stem cell lines that had been derived before President Bush’s speech on the topic in August 2001. In any case, as the 2012 Platform notes, President Obama “issued an executive order repealing the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research” in March 2009. As he made clear in his remarks when he signed the stem cell executive order, Obama agrees with the Republican Platform that human cloning should be banned: “And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.”

Abortion

The 2012 Democratic Platform flatly states, “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” The phrase “regardless of ability to pay” suggests that the right to choose includes the right to make taxpayers pay for abortions. Since money is fungible, a number of provisions have been inserted into the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare) that try to keep federal funds from financing abortions. Pro-choicers and pro-lifers vehemently disagree about how those provisions will in fact play out.

Energy

Good news America! Both the Democrats and the Republicans are in favor of “energy independence” and an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. However, back in 2008, the Democrats asserted, “We know we can't drill our way to energy independence.” Instead the Platform declared, “We must invest in research and development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies—such as solar, wind, geothermal, as well as technologies to store energy through advanced batteries and clean up our coal plants.”

The 2008 Platform promised to “fast-track investment of billions of dollars over the next ten years to establish a green energy sector that will create up to five million jobs.” In addition, the 2008 Platform committed to “getting at least 25 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025.” The only comment in the Platform regarding nuclear power occurs when it promises to “protect Nevada and its communities from the high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, which has not been proven to be safe by sound science.”

President Obama proudly pointed out in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention last week that the use of renewable energy has doubled under his administration and that thousands of Americans have jobs building wind turbines and long-lasting batteries. In addition, the U.S. has cut its imports of oil by 1 million barrels per day while opening up “millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we'll open more.”

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • OldMexican||

    The phrase "regardless of ability to pay" suggests that [a woman's] right to choose includes the right to make taxpayers pay for abortions.


    And that would be regardless of the taxpayers' ability to pay. Hnce the increase in the national debt, am I right?

  • Marshall Gill||

    The 2012 Democratic Party Platform lays out progressive views

    You shouldn't use "progressive" in this context, Ron. There is nothing that favors progress in the Dem platform, the term is as much a misnomer as "liberal" has become. Leftist is the proper term for that type of statist.

  • ant1sthenes||

    No, everything in their platform favors progress toward technocratic totalitarianism. It's perfectly accurate.

  • playa manhattan||

    "As he made clear in his remarks when signed the stem cell executive order"
    I think you are missing a "he".

  • Ron Bailey||

    pm: Thanks. Fixed.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Is there a particular reason why you've left out other scientific issues such as GMO crops or vaccines which the left is HORRIBLE on?

  • David Emami||

    He's talking about the Democratic platform, not the left in general. I did a really quick search of it (as in "load it, do a 'find on page' for things like GMO, genetic, modified, crops...") and didn't see those issues mentioned.

    I don't doubt that a lot of Democrat politicians are on the anti-science side of those issues, but they don't expect talking about them to gain any votes.

  • ubercynic||

    I don't abide the "all vaccines are evil" types, but the people saying that children are being given too many vaccines in too short a time at too young an age have a strong case, IMO.

  • Cyto||

    That opinion appears pretty humble from here. Care to share some of those well-designed, reproducible studies that demonstrate the harm you are imagining?

    B cells exist to recognize and attack foreign antigens. Memory cells exist to prime the immune system in future encounters with foreign invaders. Vaccines present the immune system with antigens. If your body is circulating antibodies against the immunized agent post-vaccine, you didn't get too many vaccines in too short a time - it did its job! It is actually fairly easy to measure something like that.

    How many antigens do you think your body encounters in a normal day - sans vaccines? Rhino-viruses, influenza, staph, strep, salmonella, hanta-virus, pollen, mold, yeast, protists, not to mention thousands of different types of phage and plant viruses. You probably get a billion times the exposure to antigen in any given vaccine every single day. Your body is built to live in a sea of hostile molecules.

  • ubercynic||

    Health officials consider a vaccine to be safe if no bad reactions — like seizures, intestinal obstruction, or anaphylaxis — occur acutely. The CDC has not done any studies to assess the long-term effects of its immunization schedule. To do that one must conduct a randomized controlled trial, the lynchpin of evidence-based medicine, where one group of children is vaccinated on the CDC's schedule and a control group is not vaccinated. Investigators then follow the two groups for a number of years (not just three to four weeks, as has been done in vaccine safety studies). Concerns that vaccinations in infants cause chronic neurologic and immune system disorders would be put to rest, and their safety certified, if the number of children who develop these diseases is the same in both groups. No such studies have been done, so vaccine proponents cannot say that vaccines are indeed as safe as they think they are.

    (Emphasis mine)
    - Donald W. Miller, Jr., MD

  • ubercynic||

    Some more interesting facts from the above referenced article:

    Fifty years ago, when the immunization schedule contained only four vaccines (for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and smallpox), autism was virtually unknown. First discovered in 1943, this most devastating malady in what is now a spectrum of pervasive developmental disorders afflicted less than 1 in 10,000 children. Today, one in every 68 American families has an autistic child. Other, less severe developmental disorders, rarely seen before the vaccine era, have also reached epidemic proportions. Four million American children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. One in six American children are now classified as "Learning Disabled."

    Our children are also experiencing an epidemic of autoimmune disorders — Type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and bowel disorders. There has been a 17-fold increase in Type I diabetes, from 1 in 7,100 children in the 1950s to 1 in 400 now. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis afflicts 300,000 American children. Twenty-five years ago this disease was so rare that public health officials did not keep any statistics on it. There has been a 4-fold increase in asthma, and bowel disorders in children are much more common now than they were 50 years ago.
  • ||

    First discovered in 1943, this most devastating malady [autism] in what is now a spectrum of pervasive developmental disorders afflicted less than 1 in 10,000 children.


    I'll call a bullshit there.

    I'm pretty sure autism existed before 1943, and in probably similar numbers.

    Only it was called mental redardation, imbecilism or just plain contrariness. The worst cases were institutionalized as incurables the others were tolerated or had the shit beaten out of them until they learned to conform.

    A slow progress in more humane treatment occured through til the 70s.

    Tody, even advocates for children with autism spectrum disorders admit that the disease is grossly overdiagnosed and mostly for the purposes of allowing parents to collect government benefits.

  • ||

    Part of my point there was to point out that people seem to often claim that an increase in something has occured, when in fact all that has happened is that it has become possible to measure the phenomenon in question with greater precision or that the the standards used to define the phenomenon have changed.

    Or, in the case of autism - and plenty of other disorders - whole new classifications have been made in the light of investigation of the information available.

  • ubercynic||

    Of course autism existed before 1943, but "probably" not in anything like the present numbers, even accounting for overdiagnosis (for whatever reason) and certainly not the kind which develops suddenly in a born-normal child. And if you are suggesting that the massive increase in autoimmune disorders is merely an artifact of better diagnosis, you are as irrational as the worst of the anti-vaccine advocates.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    There is no science but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger and Jesus as second messenger and, perhaps, some buddha bologna thrown on that sammich. You think I jest? Well, I do, but in all sincerity science hasn't a nickles chance in hell with the juggernaut of insanity called religion skittering about the place.

  • ||

    science hasn't a nickles chance in hell with the juggernaut of insanity called religion skittering about the place.

    I know. Can you believe they still have Galileo locked up? Wait a second, what century is this?

  • dinkster||

    The age of the technocrat, and all the religious zeal and worship that comes with it.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    You read like an evangelical or a charismatic Catholic, friend. This must be worn like a badge of spiritual fervor.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "There is no science but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger "

    Filed and saved for later.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "“We know we can't drill our way to energy independence.” Instead the Platform declared, “We must invest in research and development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies—such as solar, wind, geothermal,"

    Just how do they propose to obtain geothermal energy without drilling? Strip-mining? Did anybody literate check this statement before they issued it?

  • Gray Ghost||

    Thanks for pointing that out, C.S.P. Not that I expect scientific literacy from a political platform, but that is a particularly galling example.

    But they're the "reality-based community."

  • ubercynic||

    We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time

    How about exercising it on all those spam posts from 'TengVoo'?

  • PapayaSF||

    Yeah, we can't use ampersands, but the same spam URLs keep showing up....

  • 0x90||

    "And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning sex for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society."

    Also, everyone belongs to everyone else.

  • Pro Libertate||

    The idea that either party is good on science and technology is a fucking joke.

  • Colonel Travis||

    The idea that you want government intervention in science and technology is fucking jokier.

  • Russell||

    As to climate change I think my party should embrace its wildly successful 1924 campign slogan.

  • Lisa||

    I love how these articles always bring out the "blame religion!" types, as if everyone who isn't religious is a brilliant scientific scholar.

  • newshutz||

    First, I know that science does not advance by consensus, but by testing models against experiment, but if consensus is enough to provoke political action, I suggest a compromise.

    There is another science like climate science. It also is working in an area that is very difficult to model. OTOH, It is a much more mature discipline.

    There is a lot of consensus in that science, also.

    How about we implement policy based on the consensus in economics, first?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Look at every political statement made by Obummer about the stimulus, and you'll see that he talks about the "consensus" that we needed to do it in order to save the world. There is plenty consensus claims in economic decisions. Whether they are credible or not is another story.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Good article, Ronald. Like Jack Webb once said, "Just the facts," and that is what you provided.
    No complaints from me....this time.

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