What have the 2016 US presidential candidates had to say about science funding?

It has been almost impossible to escape the primary race here in the US and, as a currently New England residing ’alien’ from the original England, I know it has also had a certain morbid curiosity overseas too. With the primaries starting to reach their conclusions, we thought it would be a good time to look back and see what all the main candidates views on science funding had been. With all the debates, media coverage, and never-ending election cycles, it should be fairly easy to find out what each candidates position is on science funding was, right? It turns out it isn’t so straightforward. When we decided to write this article we assumed all we’d have to do is go on each candidates website, find out their budget proposals/stance on science funding and then report it to you. If only…

We’ve spent the last few weeks trawling through back corners of the web just to scrape together enough for a short blog post. This struggle in finding relevant information highlights a key fact; no one is talking about science! Sure, now that we’ve all seen The Martian, most candidates have vaguely mentioned they are in support of NASA as long as we only look up (..see some of the Republican candidates views below if you don’t know what I mean by that), but that’s all there seems to be when it comes to science; vague proposals about one or two key aspects of science, usually with plenty of caveats. Science isn’t a major topic in this election. It’s not even a minor topic, just an afterthought. We think this is a travesty and strongly support campaigns such as Science Debate.

Anyway, rant over (for now). Below we’ve listed the comments we could find for the three presidential candidates that are still in the race, plus the last couple of Republicans who have recently withdrawn. We’re not trying to express a political opinion here, but simply trying to give the facts we can find to help you make your own mind up and/or pressure politicians into focusing more on science in general.

We’ll try and keep this page updated as the elections continue to roll on (plus adding any new candidates that unexpectedly arise…), but please let us know if you spot something we’ve missed.

Bernie Sandersbernie-sanders-portrait-01

What does the candidate’s website say? There are a few science related quotes on there at least;

  • “Bernie Sanders has a history of backing pro-science stances”
  • “Bernie supports NASA’s mission and is generally in favor of increasing funding for NASA, but only after the needs of Americans on Earth are first met.”
  • “Bernie believes climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the planet today: that it is real, caused by human activity, and a serious threat to the environment and our way of life.”
  • “Bernie has consistently voted to allow and expand stem cell research. He voted to allow human embryonic stem cell research in 2005, and to expand research into more embryonic stem cell lines in 2007.”

What else could we find? In 2013, Senator Sanders introduced a bill to the Senate (S.627) that set out new ways of funding pharmaceutical research and drug development. The bill “…would fundamentally restructure the system of financing research and development of new medicines and dramatically reduce their prices.” According to the proposed bill, only “truly innovative products” would be financed and new products would be immediately available on the market as generics. It is interesting to see the senator proposing new models of funding, as well as reducing pharmaceutical companies’ influence on the drug approval process. (http://www.sanders.senate.gov/legislation/issue/prescription-drugs).

Our Takeaway: In addition to his fondness for talking about himself in the 3rd person, Senator Sanders indicates he is pro-science, but with very little detail on whether he would increase overall funding to the sciences or not. Does not necessarily prioritize NASA funding. His moves to explore new funding models for pharmaceutical research are noteworthy and it would be of interest to see if he could develop new methods for academic funding also.

23830237179_77ebc1cacf_oHillary Clinton

What does the candidate’s website say? There are numerous comments on science funding, but not much in terms of overall spending figures;

  • “…she [Hillary Clinton] would increase funding for scientific research at agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.”
  • “Hillary will invest in infrastructure, clean energy, and scientific and medical research to create jobs and strengthen our economy.”
  • “Invest $2 billion per year in research for Alzheimer’s and related disorders.”
  • “Coordinate with leading researchers to ensure progress toward the [Alzheimer’s] treatment goal.”

What else could we find? Former Secretary Clinton has also expressed support for space exploration (amongst other things), an area she also pledged commitment to in her 2008 campaign;

Hillary’s proposal for increased Alzheimer’s funding was aided by leading researchers and advocates from institutions such as Harvard Medical School and Alzheimer’s Impact Movement. Their ultimate goal is to cure the disease by 2025 (http://www.techtimes.com/articles/118881/20151223/hillary-clinton-wants-to-boost-government-research-funding-to-find-alzheimers-cure-by-2025.htm).

Our Takeaway: Former Secretary Clinton seems in favor or increased science funding, but may prioritize funding for certain diseases like Alzheimer’s with large initiatives to help coordinate seeking a cure. It is unclear whether currently funded areas would have to suffer in order to fund these headline projects. Good to see at least some mention of a range of areas to see increased funding though, and the guidance and support of members of the scientific community is promising.

Donald TrumpTrump

What does the candidate’s website say? All quiet on this front…

What else could we find? Trump may be a fan of NASA, though its hard to tell. Here is his response when asked on NASA’s plan to send astronauts to Mars;

Our Takeaway: Mr Trump has said almost nothing of substance about science funding. While he hasn’t indicated whether he would raise or lower investment in science, some of his ‘scientific’ opinions (on vaccines, climate change, etc.) are worrying, and he has even joked with Michael Savage, a conservative radio host, about putting Savage in charge of the National Institute for Health (NIH). At least we hope it’s a joke… 

22708307769_1ef3a263a5_oTed Cruz (campaign now suspended)

What does the candidate’s website say? Nothing stirring here…

What else could we find? Worryingly, one of the only substantial views on science that we could find from Senator Cruz (the current chairman of the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness subcommittee no less…) involves political interference in science funding. One of his main targets seems to be earth sciences;

  • “…earth science is not a ‘hard science’ and that NASA has to ‘get back to hard sciences.”
  • “…since President Obama entered office, there has been a ‘disproportionate increase’ in funding for NASA’s earth science program, which has come at the expense of space exploration as well as planetary science, heliophysics and astrophysics.”

Our Takeaway: Again, almost nothing of substance mentioned on the campaign trail from Senator Cruz. Would seem to be in favor of political interference in science funding with earth science likely to be a particular target for budgetary cuts.

John Kasich (campaign now suspended)26749841835_97f1be7e1a_o

What does the candidate’s website say? At last, an actual view on scientific research!

  • “John Kasich will initiate a comprehensive review of federal policies to identify and eliminate barriers to research, innovation, commercialization of new breakthroughs and start-up business success.”

What else could we find? Governor Kasich has explicitly mentioned that certain research budgets are in need of doubling;

Our Takeaway: Governor Kasich seems to present a refreshing focus on science funding and research. While there still isn’t nearly as much detail as we would like, he has mentioned the NIH budget needs doubling. In addition to increased funding, he also seems to be interested in improving all aspects of the research pipeline.

(Click on the highlighted sections for links to the original articles/webpages).

Contributed by Dr. Peter Harvey, Postdoctoral Researcher in Biological Engineering at MIT, and Justin Taylor, Academics for the Future of Science.


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