Science policy positions reveal candidates’ views of America

With decisive wins on June 7 in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota, Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. The stage is now set for a showdown with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump as they shift their focus to the November general election.

This shift brings closer examination of the two candidates’ stances on critical policy issues. Though rarely a talking point, science policy has managed to glean some attention in the primary season’s deluge of debates, town hall meetings, and press releases. Given the historical benefits of scientific research, science policy must be incorporated into the general election discussion.

Both candidates find immense value in science and continued research and funding. In a town hall last year, Clinton stated that U.S. investment in science and research has been “one of the great advantages we have had over the last 70 years” and went on to say it is a “huge economic boon.” Trump stated “I think it’s wonderful” when asked about space travel and putting a person on Mars.

However, the similarities end there.

As science funding continues to be cut, and often ignored, each candidate has taken a decidedly different stance on this issue, signifying a fundamental difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton has remained committed to science and research funding. She sees science as a tool, capable of creating solutions for many current issues. Clinton has proposed increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation as a part of her plan to raise American incomes. Furthermore, she recognizes the impact of climate change and would continue initiatives started by President Obama. In keeping with her stance during her 2008 campaign, Clinton supports NASA, stating “Nobody is as innovative, creative, and smart about taking research…and translating [it] into commercial and economic activities.”

Donald Trump remains enthusiastic about scientific discovery, specifically in regards to NASA and private sector space travel. However, his enthusiasm for NASA has not translated into calls to increase funding for the agency. Trump states that “we have bigger problems,” such as crumbling infrastructure and ISIS, which must be addressed before increasing funding for NASA. Trump intends to focus funding directly on finding the solutions to current issues, such as “fix[ing] our potholes,” and would utilize excess funds to support science since “we don’t exactly have a lot of money.” Similar to his former Republican opponents, Trump denies the impact of climate change. It remains “very low on the list” of his priorities, as he is more concerned with the threat of nuclear war. He eventually went so far as to say he would cut the Environmental Protection Agency.

These differences in policy indicate a drastic distinction between the two candidates and their views on the current condition of the United States. Hillary Clinton recognizes that the country faces major issues, but she envisions a future where science plays a critical role in making America stronger. In stark contrast, Donald Trump sees the U.S. on the brink of catastrophic decline. Focused on the present, Trump’s commitment to current issues rather than science funding suggests that the country must first be saved before it can work towards a more prosperous and scientific future.

Together, these two standpoints challenge the role of science in American society. When faced with major challenges, the U.S. has rarely looked to science directly, opting instead for more direct solutions through military, economic, or social actions. While often difficult to justify in the short term, applied and theoretical scientific research regularly has widespread impact on current and future challenges. Scientific research by NASA, NIH, national labs, and universities has created its own surprising solutions to difficult problems. From solar power to wireless communications, nuclear energy to the internet, science research has helped shape the modern world. Ultimately, candidates must successfully balance solving imminent challenges with the need for continued scientific exploration to create a successful present and prosperous future.

Jacob Lineberry contributed to this post.