2016 Blows Open The Futility Of Making Science Policy A Presidential Campaign Issue

I’ll save my barbs for the Sisyphean delusion of ScienceDebate for another post, but with the candidate pool now down to two presumptive nominees, it’s worth discussing what little we know about their respective science and technology policies.  (How well these campaigns will do to fulfill these promises is hard to gauge in advance, but it’s reasonable to prepare for disappointment.)

It’s difficult to know exactly what policies would be implemented by a President Trump in part because of his willful inconsistency in policy statements.  The libertarian magazine Reason evaluated Republican candidates on science issues earlier this year, and Mr. Trump failed to distinguish himself from his former competitors.  But that evaluation was based on Tweets and other offhand remarks by the candidate.  As Mr. Trump has sometimes contradicted or reversed himself (I suppose which one fits varies with your perspective) within the span of hours or days, I think it plausible that he would do the same for science and technology policy.  But the current chaos of his campaign makes me wonder when and if he would turn to matters of science and technology policy.  I would not be surprised if a President Trump didn’t bother to appoint a science adviser during his first year in office.

Matthew Nisbet, professor of communication at Northeastern, makes the argument that Mr. Trump’s positions on climate (consistent with mainstream Republican dismissal of the phenomenon and the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels), combined with his nationalism and casual disregard for international agreements, would be catastrophic for action on climate change.  I don’t think Mr. Trump’s potential for disruption is limited to climate action, and it is the potential for instability in other areas that I think would persuade more voters to reject him.

As for Secretary Clinton, you can find specific science and technology issues on her website – climate, various diseases, manufacturing, energy.  But I think her 2008 website was more substantive on issues that people engaged in science and technology policy would find of interest.  This year the most press attention that any of Secretary Clinton’s science policies has received was on UFOs.  She is even on television stating her interest in looking into the files and making them as public as possible.

This year’s presidential election is unique in many ways, and perhaps science and technology policy is one of those ways.  In past years at least we have seen campaigns answer questionnaires on science and technology issues.  We may not even get that much this year, at least where one campaign is concerned.  I hope it might convince some to focus their attention on other federal offices for raising the profile of science and technology issues, but I shan’t hold my breath.

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