The Volokh Conspiracy

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What do the presidential candidates think about science and technology?


Three of the four major candidates for U.S. president have responded to "America's Top 20 Presidential Science, Engineering, Technology, Health and Environmental Questions." The nonprofit advocacy group, who has posed questions and called for a scientific debate in each of the past three presidential elections, has posted their responses online. Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Jill Stein had all responded, with no responses yet from Gary Johnson.

A few responses between the two leading candidates are notable:

Question 3 focuses on climate change:

  • Clinton begins with: "When it comes to climate change, the science is crystal clear. Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time and its impacts are already being felt at home and around the world."
  • Trump says: "There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of 'climate change.' "

Question 5 is about the Internet:

  • Clinton remarks: "The next President will be confronted with these challenges, and will need common sense approaches to balance cybersecurity with personal privacy. The next president must be able to thoughtfully address these nuanced issues."
  • Trump says: "The United States government should not spy on its own citizens. That will not happen in a Trump administration." Umm, really? Never?

Question 9 asks about federal investment to address emerging diseases and other public health threats, such as antibiotic-resistant superbugs:

  • Clinton says, among other things: "I will create a Public Health Rapid Response Fund, with consistent, year-to-year budgets, to better enable the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local public health departments, hospital systems, and other federal agencies to quickly and aggressively respond to major public health crises and pandemics."
  • Trump says: "The implication of the question is that one must provide more resources to research and public health enterprises to make sure we stay ahead of potential health risks. In a time of limited resources, one must ensure that the nation is getting the greatest bang for the buck. We cannot simply throw money at these institutions and assume that the nation will be well served."

Question 14 asks about streamlining regulations to ensure innovation:

  • Clinton says: "It is essential that environmental, health, and energy regulations, among other areas, use the best available science to guide decision-making, and I am committed to making sure that continues."
  • Trump says: "Science will inform our decisions on what regulations to keep, rescind or add. A vibrant, robust free market system will regulate the private sector."

Overall, the answers seem to track ideological differences—Trump emphasizes market solutions to questions of science and technology, while Clinton emphasizes the role of the federal government in investing in scientific development and technology.

The Clinton responses are specific, with examples and details, while the Trump responses are relatively brief and often vague.

Overall, given the importance of science and technology to national progress, growth and competitiveness, these answers are a valuable read.