See where Clinton and Trump stand on science
Here are the presidential candidates’ comments on seven key research-related policy issues
By Science News Staff
12:25pm, September 13, 2016
Hillary Clinton’s “I believe in science” declaration aside, science has not played a starring role in the 2016 presidential election. Far from it. For the most part, the candidates’ science policies have trickled out in dribs and drabs, and in varying degrees of detail — talking points on a website here, a passing comment in response to a spur-of-the-moment question there.
Yet science underpins our understanding of, and response to, the world around us. It answers everything from why our coffee sloshes dangerously to what could happen if the planet warms another degree or two. Science often intersects with public policy, and presidential leadership influences research priorities.
With that in mind, Science News examines where Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee, and Republican Party nominee Donald Trump stand on seven scientific issues with the power to impact our future. Our writers looked at what the candidates have said publicly at campaign events and in interviews, what they have written on their websites, relevant planks in their party’s platform, and their responses, released September 13, to 20 questions posed by the nation’s science advocates. (Science News’ parent organization, Society for Science & the Public, is among the groups pushing to make science more prominent in the presidential campaigns, via an initiative called ScienceDebate.org.)
Read on to find out what Clinton and Trump have said on topics ranging from genetic engineering to space exploration, and how their positions accord with the current state of the science. — Macon Morehouse
Q: What, if any, should be the top space exploration priorities for the United States, and what role should private space flight play?
As she tells the story, Clinton wanted to be an astronaut when she was 14 years old, but NASA told her that they weren’t accepting girls. That doesn’t seem to have dampened her enthusiasm. “I really, really do support the space program,” she told a crowd in July 2015 at a town hall meeting in Dover, N.H. “There’s a lot for us to keep learning … Let’s not back off now.”
Clinton has provided few specifics on what the United States should be doing in space, but she told ScienceDebate.org that one of her goals is to “advance our ability to make human exploration of Mars a reality.”
Clinton’s position seems to align with that of her party’s platform: “Democrats believe in continuing the spirit of discovery that has animated NASA’s exploration of space over the last half century. We will strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions to space.” The platform makes no mention of what role, if any, commercial enterprises such as SpaceX and Blue Origin should play in furthering space exploration. Clinton has said that she doesn’t object to partnering with private ventures, but that their role is more aligned with applied science, whereas the government should be funding basic research and discovery.
Trump is a big fan of space exploration — “a strong space program will encourage our children to seek STEM [education] and will bring millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in investment to this country,” he told ScienceDebate.org. But he has also repeatedly said that it’s a luxury the country can’t afford. “I love NASA, I love what it represents, I love what it stands for,” he said during a November 11 event in Manchester, N.H. “Right now we have bigger problems.… We’ve got to fix our potholes.”
NASA should focus on exploring new frontiers, Trump told Aerospace America in May. Infrastructure, economics and defense come first, however. “Our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country,” he said. “If we are growing with all of our people employed and our military readiness back to acceptable levels, then we can take a look at the timeline for sending more people into space.”
Both Trump and the Republican Party support working with private companies to expand access to space. “I think there needs to be a growing partnership between the government and the private sector as we continue to explore space,” Trump told Aerospace America. “There seems to be tremendous overlap of interests so it seems logical to go forward together.”
State of the science:
Pluto reconnaissance. Ripples in spacetime. Discovery of thousands of worlds around other stars. Space exploration is in a golden age, and astronomers as well as policy experts want continued support for basic research, whether by building new telescopes or sending probes to far-flung worlds.
NASA is on track to launch James Webb, the next major space-based telescope, late in 2018 and has started work on that telescope’s successor, WFIRST. The agency launched a probe in September to bring samples of an asteroid back to Earth (SN Online: 9/8/16), and plans are under way for the next Mars rover and a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa (SN Online: 6/18/15).
Current policy regarding the role of humans in space is muddled. “No dream, no vision, no plan, no budget,” said former NASA administrator Michael Griffin at a congressional hearing in February. NASA proclaims it will send humans to Mars in the next 20 years — while others argue for a return to the moon — but there is no clear outline or long-term financial support (SN Online: 5/24/16).