If all goes as planned, which it rarely has this campaign season, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will debate each other three times before the election. With many important topics to cover in a just a few hours' debate time, less high-profile issues can end up being neglected. Scientific topics often fall under this category.
On Wednesday, a coalition of more than 50 groups representing some 10 million scientists and engineers called on the presidential candidates to address 20 major scientific issues, including everything from space exploration to the healthcare industry. The coalition, which includes the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Union of Concerned Scientists; and more, also implores journalists, the media, and voters to do their part in elevating these issues on the campaign trail.
With only 1.5% of the questions posed to candidates during the first 20 presidential primary debates being about climate change according to a Media Matters analysis, it shouldn't be too hard to make progress. If the organizations had their way, there would be an entire debate devoted to the subjects.
"In hearing the candidates speak about the issues important to the American people I am struck by the fact that there is hardly a topic that would not benefit from being informed by the best scientific evidence to guide sound policy," said Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences, in a statement. "By engaging the candidates in a debate focusing on topics in science, engineering, technology, and innovation, it would be an opportunity for all voters to gauge how the candidates would use sound technical information in their future decision making."
While scientific inquiry is extremely important for everyone from young kids to career politicians, when it comes time to vote in November anyone with a bone in the scientific fight has a pretty clear option. While Clinton supports reducing greenhouse gas emissions, tackling environmental justice issues, and boosting clean energy, Trump is still calling global warming a "hoax" and threatening to shut down the EPA.
In Clinton's acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination, all she had to say was that she "believes in science" to draw a stark contrast with Trump. In Trump's recent economic policy speech, he touted all the fossil fuels he would develop and all the environmental regulations he would rescind. He also wants to back out of the Paris climate agreement, which could get enough support from the global community to go into effect by the end of the year.
So what are these questions that the scientific groups want answers to? Here's a sampling:
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?
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?
American students have fallen in many international rankings of science and math performance, and the public in general is being faced with an expanding array of major policy challenges that are heavily influenced by complex science. How would your administration work to ensure all students including women and minorities are prepared to address 21st century challenges and, further, that the public has an adequate level of STEM literacy in an age dominated by complex science and technology?
There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?
Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy, but that is predicated on the integrity of that evidence and of the scientific process used to produce it, which must be both transparent and free from political bias and pressure. How will you foster a culture of scientific transparency and accountability in government, while protecting scientists and federal agencies from political interference in their work?
You can see the rest of the questions here.