For nearly a decade, an effort has existed to try to drive attention to science issues in the Presidential Debates. Regretfully, Science Debate has not succeeded in getting prime time debates focused on “STEM” (or STEAM or…) nor even many serious questions asked of candidates in debates. However, the effort has succeeded in getting written responses from campaigns — including, in 2016, from all four ‘major’ campaigns to 20 serious questions ranging from scientific integrity to climate change to oceans to …
These responses make interesting — often rather stunning (if not jaw-dropping, head-against-wall) — reading. These are the sort of substantive discussions that, in the minds of many, should have a prominent role in our political discussions as opposed to discussing Gennifer Flowers’ seating charts or Donald Trump’s hand size.
Not surprising, Hillary Clinton’s responses to the Science Debate questions are substantive, providing much to think about, and much to support. To find Donald Trump’s responses inadequate and, well, simply outrageous seems to be something that any reasoned and reasonable person would conclude. And, both Johnson’s and Stein’s responses seem to fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
Having responses from Secretary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Dr. Stein provides the basis for evaluating them side-by-side. While we all, in theory, could do so, thankfully Scientific American has taken care of this for us with Grading the Presidential Candidates in Science. They have evaluated the answers to all 20 questions, providing a “grade” on 19 (immigration they decided wasn’t cleanly a science question and thus didn’t include it in the grade). Every ‘grade’ has a written justification.
Here, for example, is the discussion of climate change:
3. CLIMATE CHANGE
The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?
Clinton acknowledges that “climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.” She outlines a plan “to generate half of our electricity from clean sources,” to cut “energy waste” by a third and to “reduce American oil consumption by a third” over the next 10 years. To achieve these goals she plans to “implement and build on” current “pollution and efficiency standards and clean energy tax incentives.” Clinton loses a point for not saying where she will find the money to pay for such initiatives. Grade: 4/5
Trump refers to “climate change” in quotation marks, apparently to signal that he still believes—as he has asserted in the past—that human-caused global warming is a hoax. Then he suggests that “our limited financial resources” are best spent on things such as clean water and anti-malaria efforts, without acknowledging the argument that the success of such efforts could be largely influenced by how climate change is addressed. Grade: 0/5
Johnson accepts that “climate change is occurring, and that human activity is contributing to it, including through greenhouse gases.” But he plans to rely on the “marketplace” to “facilitate the free exchange of new, efficient, carbon-friendly processes and technologies.” However, as Naomi Oreskes wrote in Scientific American in 2015, the marketplace alone cannot solve the climate change problem because the marketplace will not put a tangible cost on carbon without government intervention.Grade: 2/5
Stein hopes to “create 20 million jobs by transitioning to 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030” through her “Green New Deal.” The plan includes providing incomes to transitioning workers “displaced by the shift away from fossil fuels,” “redirecting research funds from fossil fuels into renewable energy and conservation” and phasing out “all fossil fuel power plants” and nuclear power plants. Realistically speaking, however, nuclear power will remain for some time the most common carbon-free energy source. Stein loses points for her inflexible anti-nuclear stance and for not detailing the cost of her proposals.Grade: 3/5
This pattern: Clinton in the A-/B+ range, Trump entrenched in failure, and Johnson/Stein somewhere in between pretty much maintains through the 19 graded questions. Now, to clarify, this is somewhat like Olympic gymnastic judging — Scientific American didn’t want to give ‘perfect’ scores. Out of 76 possible grades (each of four candidates 19 times), just two are 5/5 (Clinton on Energy, Johnson on Nuclear Power) — in other words, a perfect score was pretty much impossible. In theory, the candidates had the potential to get 95 but a more realistic viable ‘perfect score’ might be in the 75-85 range. With that in mind, how did Scientific American judge the candidates:
Anyone surprised that @RealDonaldTrump really falls flat with the science community?
Anyone surprised that Hillary Clinton is the only one to get a passing grade from these science experts?
NOTE: Highly recommended, War On Science, by Shawn Lawrence Otto, a (if not the) key player in Science Debates.