The Candidates on Science

Posted on October 29, 2016 by

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In the days remaining until the election, each weekend seems to bring some new revelation. Trump has suffered from a recent streak of unsavory tapes and comments, but this weekend the conversation has shifted again. Hillary’s email controversy has been resurrected from an unlikely source to come back to haunt her. It remains to be seen if this “October Surprise” will affect her, but she is back on the defensive after what had seemed a relatively easy cruise to victory on Election Day.

I would like to step back from the current controversy and go on to discuss a topic that has been overlooked in the endless back-and-forth about the economy, war, and immigration.

Science!

During Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, she said what should be a no-brainer:

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The fact that such a statement has to be explicitly articulated by a candidate running for President speaks to the state of scientific literacy in the country. For the last three decades, around 40% of Americans  have believed that God created humans in the last 10,000 years. While that number has fluctuated slightly, it has remained steady compared to the rapidly changing views on gay marriage or other social issues. While Trump has remained silent on that particular issue, Mike Pence dodged the question without an outright denial of evolution. Besides being a reflection of his own faith, it is likely that his public statements on the issue are a way to retain fellow Evangelicals.

On vaccines, Clinton has made her position clear:

Interestingly, while there is both public and scientific consensus on vaccines, the political story is more complicated. Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Donald Trump have all given statements casting doubt on the efficacy of vaccination 

Trump has been the most vocal anti-vaxxer of the candidates. At the Republican Primary debate a year ago, he argued that there was a link between vaccines and autism and compared vaccinating children to vaccinating horses.

On Twitter, he has repeatedly argued against way vaccines are administered,

and further emphasized the horses:

What about climate change?

While the evidence is incontrovertible and its global effects potentially dire, the issue of climate change only received 82 seconds of discussion during the debates

Despite the scientific certainty, public opinion is still split on anthropogenic climate change and the political conversation continues as if the issue were still up for debate. The range of views greatly varies. On the far left, Jill Stein stated that “climate change is the greatest existential threat that humanity has ever faced” and wants a total transition away from fossil fuels to renewable sources. Clinton’s views are less urgent on the issue, but she still fundamentally agrees with the scientific consensus. Her policies rely on expanding what Obama has done so far and to uphold his pledge at the Paris climate conference.

Apart from one bizarre response about the sun eventually consuming the Earth in a few billion years, Gary Johnson’s views on global warming the matter are much vaguer. His own website equivocates about the issue, while arguing that the real problem is misguided effort by the federal government to regulate what should be left to the markets and private companies.

 

And then we come to Trump:

Though Trump later said he was joking about China, he has positioned himself with many in the Republican establishment to firmly deny the link between human activity and climate change. He has pledged to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement. However, as recently as 2009 he and three of his children signed onto a full page advertisement in the New York Times pushing for urgent action on greenhouse gas legislation. This is far from the only issue on which Trump has radically reversed his stance, but it is interesting to note how quickly his opinion changed to match Republican orthodoxy.

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Interestingly Pence has broken with his running mate’s own views on the matter and said “there’s no question” that human activity affects the climate.

While the next few days will reignite the political chatter on Clinton’s emails, I think it is important to keep in mind topics that go unnoticed. Trump has flip-flopped on some scientific issues, but Clinton’s views have remained relatively steady. If Clinton is elected, I will be curious to see how her talk translates into policy and whether the Republican Party will rethink its stance on evolution and climate change in order to regain popularity among the changing electorate.

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