Science in Washington


The biggest topic on everyone’s mind right now is (and perhaps should be) the 2016 presidential elections.  The media has been abuzz with candidates’ views on economics, foreign affairs, social issues—and each other.  There is less focus, however, on how they view the future of science.  Here is a brief summary of the current candidates’ opinions about the two aspects of science that most directly influence our lives: climate change and science funding.  Read on – it may surprise you.

Disclaimer: this information was gathered from several sources (cited at the bottom of the article), not directly from the candidate’s own webpages, as not all of the information is available there.  It is also possible that some of the candidate’s views differ from what they are reported to have said.  The following post is simply a compilation of the information publicly available to the media.

Republican candidates in alphabetical order:

Jeb Bush

Climate change: In 2011, Jeb was quoted to have said that he “think[s] global warming may be real” but also that “It is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately manmade. What I get a little tired of on the left is this idea that somehow science has decided all this so you can’t have a view.”  It appears that Jeb personally believes the science of climate change (which, incidentally, is not­ contended among scientists), but thinks that Republicans (and others) should be allowed to have an opinion to the contrary.  And perhaps, therefore, to remain unresponsive to the threat of global warming.  He opposes prioritizing green energy; it’s unclear whether he would take other measures to curb carbon emissions.

Science funding:  Jeb is in favor of increasing government funding for NASA, NSF, and NIH.  He thinks that it’s the government’s job to support disease research, and since his big bro GW Bush also increased the NIH budget while in office, perhaps Jeb would follow through!  

Ben Carson

Climate change:  Ben has apparently said, "As far as I'm concerned, [climate change is] irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment." This doesn’t address the issue of whether he would take measures to directly address global warming, but it’s a relatively reasonable attitude to have toward the environment in general.  

Science funding:  He supports increased NASA funding and NIH funding, particularly for stem cell research.  Support for the latter is a rarity among Republicans, even though many scientists rely on stem cells for basic science and medical research.

Chris Christie

Climate change:  On December 5, 2015 at a campaign stop, Christie reportedly said that “climate change happens… I think it's ridiculous to say that the activity of humans doesn't contribute to climate change. They do. Stuff that we do contributes to the change of the climate. The question is: does that create a crisis? I don't think it does … I don't think we have to take the kind of drastic measures that the President is talking about.”  He is one of the few Republican candidates who strongly believes in the impact of humans on global warming, but for some reason seems hesitant to act upon it.

Science funding:  Christie has said that he supports an increase in NIH funding, but in his home state of New Jersey has cut cancer research funding.  This may not necessarily reflect how he would handle the NIH, because state budgets -- unlike federal ones -- are required to be balanced, but it’s also possible that science funding is not a huge priority for him.

Ted Cruz

Climate change: Cruz says he does not believe the science of climate change, going so far as saying that “global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers.”  The Hoeven amendment, proposed in fact by a Republican, stated that it’s the opinion of Congress that climate change is real, and that human activity contributes to it.  Cruz voted against the amendment.

Science funding:  Ted thinks that space exploration is a priority, but wants to decrease earth science funding, possibly due to his views on climate change.  Since both research fields are funded by NASA, it is unclear how his funding strategy will play out. 

Carly Fiorina

Climate change: Carly accepts that climate change is manmade.  However, she claims that scientists also say that one nation alone can’t change the global warming trajectory.  She is using this as a reason not to act.

Science funding: No clear information found.

Jim Gilmore

Climate change: Jim believes that climate change is real.  Perhaps he’s been reading The PhDISH!  He opposes the cap/trade policy as a way to fix the problem, but it’s unclear what he believes a good solution will be. 

Science funding: Gilmore has been pretty quiet about his views on science funding, but he has opposed stem cell research. 

Mike Huckabee

Climate change: Huckabee thinks that the science on climate change is unsettled.  He was also unimpressed by the climate talks in Paris, calling it a “sprawling, unenforceable deal”; “already there’s friction? Know what cures friction? Oil.””  It seems fairly clear that his energy policies will lie completely with fossil fuels, and that he will not aid efforts for green energy.

Science funding:  Despite that, Mike is very pro-science in other regards.  He greatly supports NASA funding, citing all the technological advances that have come from its research.  He also considers the government funding of medical research to be a positive investment, and therefore supports increasing the NIH budget in the hope of developing new breakthroughs.  

John Kasich

Climate change:  Kasich believes that humans are having an impact on climate change, but is unclear about what to do about it.  He has reportedly said “Do I think that we should that we should use common sense to do some things to protect [Earth]? Absolutely. Do I think we ought to throw lots of people out of work, and let other countries not be as sensitive as we are to it? No, I wouldn’t think that would make much sense. But, I think as a people that are on this earth, I think we need to be sensitive to it, and I think we need to take some reasonable actions to make sure that we leave this to the next generation in a healthy state.” He appears to be taking a carefully measured stance to not alienate his party’s base while admitting the reality of global warming. 

Science funding: Kasich supports increasing science funding, saying that “we do need to double the NIH budget and begin to do the vital medical research, and it should be a priority of the government.” 

Rand Paul

Climate change:  In January, Paul voted yes to the Hoeven Amendment (see above), but against the Schatz amendment, which states that humans contribute "significantly" to climate change.  He also voted against cutting carbon pollution, so despite acknowledging climate change he appears to be unmotivated to address it. 

Science funding:  Rand Paul says that NASA should be operating in the private sector, and wants to cut government funding for its research.  He also wants to cut the NIH budget, believing that there is already plenty of money there.  

Marco Rubio

Climate change:  Rubio also voted against the Hoeven Amendment (see above). He has reportedly said that he does “not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”  He seems to be one of the strongest global warming deniers. 

Science funding:  Rubio has voted in favor of budget bills that cut NASA funding, possibly because NASA funds earth science/climate research, and has voted against bills that include NIH funding increases.  He would like to maintain funds at a sequester level, which would effectively cut funding.  

Rick Santorum

Climate change:  Santorum is not so much in denial of climate change as he is delusional about it.  He believes that it is a hoax, hijacked by politicians on the left … to create panic … and to be able to step In and even more greatly control your life.”  If he is against government involvement in the issue, he may veto any bills that attempt to curb global warming. 

Science funding:  Rick is, however, a fan of the NIH.  While he is against stem cell research, he has repeatedly voted to increase the NIH budget (even as much as 1.6 billion), and even voted to increase tobacco taxes in order to get more funds for the NIH. 

Donald Trump

Climate change: As is the norm with Donald, his own words say it best.  He tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Science funding: Donald thinks that NASA research is great in theory, but not a priority, saying that “right now, we have bigger problems — you understand that? We've got to fix our potholes.” He hasn’t voiced his opinion on NIH funding, however.

Democratic candidates in alphabetical order:

Hillary Clinton

Climate change: In a manner true to a former secretary of state, Clinton focuses on the international negotiations inherent to the talks about curbing climate change.  She wants all countries including the US to commit to fight global warming, and thinks it is a settled science.  She wants the US to be a clean energy superpower, and may therefore support increased funding into energy research.

Science funding:  Speaking of which, Hillary favors expanding the NIH budget, particularly for Alzheimer’s research—so much so that she would like to quadruple the annual Alzheimer’s funding.  She has also said that all sciences—basic science, space, oceanic, genomic—are important, and we’ll have to see how that monetarily plays out.

Martin O'Malley

Climate change: O’Malley might be the most pro-science presidential candidate in the running.  Global warming is one of the centers of his campaign, and he says that the government has a responsibility to deal with its environmental impact.  He has said that he will “hold everyone to the pact made in Paris to curb climate change.” 

Science funding:  O’Malley supports increasing science funding, and these aren’t just words.  He “signed a letter to congress urging them to increase the National Institutes of Health budget by 3.2%. As governor of Maryland, one of his signature economic policies, investMaryland, raised $84 million dollars for investment in innovation, technology and research initiatives.”  He’s also an active proponent of stem cell research, a politically bold stance but an important aspect of medical research.  

Bernie Sanders

Climate change: Sanders feels so strongly about the importance of global warming that he said it’s the greatest threat to national security. He believes that it’s our moral responsibility to act upon it, and will likely introduce several policies to curb carbon emissions.

Science funding: It’s unclear, however, whether he will support increased research in other fields.  He has repeatedly voted to decrease NASA funding, and there is some fear that he would want to reduce basic science funds.  He does support government-funded stem cell research, so he’s by no means anti-science, but apart from climate change it doesn’t seem to be his priority. He has said that other needs of Americans need to come first, in a surprisingly similar (but far more eloquent) sentiment to Donald Trump’s.

The Takeaway

Surprised?  I was.  While opinions on climate change had pretty clear party divides, science funding was quite de-politicized, with 66% of the Democratic candidates and 58% of the Republican candidates in favor of increasing the NIH, NSF, and/or NASA budgets.  Over all, O’Malley seems to be the most science-friendly and Rubio the least, with other candidates falling in the middle of the spectrum.  Let’s hope for a future of Presidents making science a priority!