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PoliticsScience & Tech

She Blinded Me with Science

For those who did not watch the American Democratic National Election, Hillary Clinton’s admission to believing in the universe’s laws of nature seemed rather bizarre to me. “Since when did scientific belief become an optional activity?” asked the voice of the zealous science enthusiast in my head.  

My science-y senses were tingling.  As a Biomedical Sciences student, I couldn’t imagine life without believing in science.  I was educated to believe that science is not personal preference; science is empirical fact. How could someone ignore such extensively-researched knowledge? 

Seemingly, not everyone shares this opinion. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, notorious for his controversial political statements, has a history of disregarding widely-accepted scientific facts. When pressed for his proposed science-related policies, Trump’s stances leave much to be desired.  For example, when asked about how he plans to protect America’s oceans, Trump’s unabbreviated response was, “My administration will work with Congress to establish priorities for our government and how we will allocate our limited fiscal resources. This approach will assure [sic] that the people’s voices will be heard on this topic and others.”  Not only does Trump neglect to merely mention the word “ocean” in his response, his lack of scientific groundwork reveals how unprepared and uninformed he truly is.  His untimely attempt to dodge valid concerns most certainly fails to ensure — or “assure”, for that matter — readers that he takes scientific issues seriously.  Neuroscience experts speculate that he suffers from the Dunning-Kruger effect, the psychological bias that causes an individual to assess their competencies to be far superior than others, significantly overestimating his or her intelligence and abilities.

As with many of Trump’s claims, his scientific “facts” are often inconsistent, misguided or just downright wrong. Trump reportedly complained that the regulations intended to protect the Earth’s ozone layer from depletion have interfered with the quality of a product that he holds near and dear to his heart (and head) – aerosol hairspray. In 2012, Trump dismissed climate change as a hoax, claiming that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive”. He also promised to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and reverse Obama’s climate change protection regulations, insisting that they tax American businesses.

Courtesy of New Scientist (2016)

With the exception of calling the National Institutes of Health “terrible,” Trump’s position regarding biomedical research has been uncharacteristically inexplicit. He has vaguely suggested that he supports Alzheimer’s research, although he has neglected to provide specific details of his contributions.  Despite the retraction of the original study correlating the MMR vaccine to autism and the extensively-referenced scientific literature that has debunked such myths, Trump has stated “we’ve had so many instances… A child went to have the vaccine, got very, very sick and now is autistic.”  But, Trump isn’t the only one on the Republican ticket openly propagating misinformation; his running mate, Mike Pence, publicly opposes embryonic stem-cell research, calling it “obsolete” and an “empty promise.”

According to theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, who is the Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and director of its Origins Project, “for science, research, and their impact on the economy, the election of Trump would simply be a disaster”.

His Democratic rival, on the other hand, has embraced scientific enlightenment with open arms, promising to increase support for federal research organizations and scientific educational institutions, such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  At 14 years old, Clinton’s childhood dream to become an astronaut was inhibited upon learning of NASA’s acceptance policies limited to males exclusively.  Despite this, Clinton was not discouraged from actively supporting and investing in the scientific community, as demonstrated by one of her current objectives to “advance our ability to make human exploration of Mars a reality.”

Related to the genetic engineering of crops, Clinton asserts “I stand in favor of using seeds and products that have a proven track record… scientifically provable… There are a lot advocates who fight hunger in Africa who are desperate for GMO seeds because they are drought resistant and they don’t know how else they are going to get enough yield to feed people.”  Trump has yet to comment on genetic engineering.

Clinton’s plans to protect the environment include maintaining President Obama’s Paris climate conference pledge, pledging to install 500,000 solar panels by the end of her first term, launching a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to reduce pollution and eliminating tax subsidies to oil and gas corporations.

Regarding her policies related to healthcare, Clinton has prioritized addiction and substance abuse, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, HIV and AIDS and disability rights. She openly supports Obama’s initiative to expand the National Health Service Corps, increasing funding for the education of healthcare providers.  As for vaccinations, she emphatically voiced her opinion in a notable tweet from 2015, “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest.”

She Blinded Me with Science

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at first presidential debate September 26, 2016 (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

Without dispute, the developments which have occurred over recent decades have demanded the modest increase of science and technology’s presence within American political culture.   Yet, considering how science has vastly revolutionized our lives, both individually and universally, shouldn’t we increase the national dialogue that surrounds science-related issues? The folks at ScienceDebate.org certainly think so. All of the American presidential candidates have been challenged by an association of 56 leading American nonpartisan organizations to address a collection of science-focused concerns through live, broadcasted political debates. ScienceDebate.org anticipates that these televised events will emphasize the significant roles science and technology play in the vitality of our society, especially from health, environmental and economic perspectives. By equipping voters with relevant information, the American public will be prepared to make an informed decision when electing their new president to serve in office.

ScienceDebate.org represents over 10 million scientists and engineers, and has obtained the support of 24 Nobel laureates; 172 leaders of top-tier scientific institutions such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.  Below are 5 of the 20 questions proposed by ScienceDebate.org for the presidential candidates on August 10th:

  • Innovation: Science and engineering have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII. But some reports question America’s continued leadership in these areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of innovation?
  • Mental Health: Mental illness is among the most painful and stigmatized diseases, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates it costs America more than $300 billion per year. What will you do to reduce the human and economic costs of mental illness?
  • Public Health: Public health efforts like smoking cessation, drunk driving laws, vaccination, and water fluoridation have improved health and productivity and save millions of lives. How would you improve federal research and our public health system to better protect Americans from emerging diseases and other public health threats, such as antibiotic resistant superbugs?
  • Nuclear Power: Nuclear power can meet electricity demand without producing greenhouse gases, but it raises national security and environmental concerns. What is your plan for the use, expansion, or phasing out of nuclear power, and what steps will you take to monitor, manage and secure nuclear materials over their life cycle?
  • Opioids: There is a growing opioid problem in the United States, with tragic costs to lives, families and society. How would your administration enlist researchers, medical doctors and pharmaceutical companies in addressing this issue?

As their responses were due September 6th, the global scientific community has eagerly awaited to hear the belated voices of America’s future leader.  Published on September 13th, Clinton’s and Trump’s answers yet again reinforce the notion that Trump is really as ill-equipped and unprepared as he portrays himself to be.

When questioned about scientific integrity, Trump responded, “Science is science and facts are facts.  My administration will ensure that there will be total transparency and accountability without political bias.  The American people deserve this and I will make sure this is the culture of my administration.”

Although Trump’s acceptance of science and facts is a refreshing change, shouldn’t a future president respond to major scientific concern with more than 40 words of vague, questionable promises that lack support and direction?  Perhaps Clinton’s concisely-crafted argument outlining meticulously-devised strategies to both prevent scientific interference and reinforce public trust suggests a more satisfactory alternative. 

While I encourage the public to formulate their own informed conclusions of the debate, I also challenge readers to critically assess the quality of each candidate’s responses (or lack thereof).  Regard the vivid contrasts between Clinton’s and Trump’s responses – specifically in terms of length, detail and comprehensiveness – as an exemplification of the disparities in aptitude and preparation between them.    

Click here (http://sciencedebate.org/20questions/) to read all of the 20 questions posed by ScienceDebate.org to the presidential candidates.

Click here (http://sciencedebate.org/20answers) to read all the presidential candidates’ responses.

Author

She Blinded Me with Science
Jordyn is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph's Biomedical Sciences program, and currently works for Bell Canada Supply Chain.