Where do the presidential candidates stand on science and research?

To answer this question, a large group of eminent scientists (including my colleague, former NSF director Rita Colwell) is calling for a “Science Debate” among the candidates, and they have created a website at http://www.sciencedebate2008.com. Although I support the idea, I decided to do my own homework to find out where the candidates stand on science. I quickly realized that most of them are not likely to agree to a debate, not only because some of them just haven’t thought much about scientific research, but also because they just don’t think it's that important. So I put together this blog entry to summarize their positions and provide some useful links.

I took a look at the six top candidates – three from each party – plus one independent, looking for any information on each of their own websites about their positions on supporting scientific research. Every candidate has an “Issues” link, but in most cases scientific research wasn’t listed and I had to do some digging to find out what they think. I also looked at a variety of independent sites when I couldn’t find information on the candidates’ own sites. Here are my findings, with Republicans first, then Democrats, and then one independent plus a closing comment.

Republican presidential candidates

ADDED on January 23: entry for John McCain (below Giuliani)

Rudy Giuliani’s website focuses on his “12 commitments,” but the site makes no mention of supporting scientific research. In fact, Giuliani goes out of his way to say he is opposed to increasing science funding, by including an attack on Hillary Clinton’s proposal to increase funding for NSF and NIH [here's a link to this (added Jan 10)]. I can only conclude he is opposed to increasing funding for either one. On the positive side, he accepts that evolution is “an accepted part of science” – see this link.

John McCain's website does not include much detail on his support for science funding and scientific research. On global warming, his site says "he has been a leader on the issue of global warming with the courage to call the nation to action on an issue we can no longer afford to ignore" - so apparently he differs with the Bush administration on this issue. Under health care, he includes a long list of positions, including this one: "Dedicate federal research on the basis of sound science resulting in greater focus on care and cure of chronic disease." Without any details, this statement could easily translate into either increases or decreases for NIH research. Also, "sound science" is a buzzword that has been adopted by corporate interests trying to support their own positions, often in contradiction to legitimate scientific findings. (See the blog "Code Words 101" for more.)

New: AAAS has a new website that lists positions of all the candidates on science. The listing for McCain doesn't say any more than I've described here, though.

Mitt Romney makes no mention of science or biomedical research on his website, except for energy research (which all the candidates support in one form or another). His only known position is opposition to human embryonic stem-cell research, although he supported it in 2002 (see this link).

Mike Huckabee is probably the worst of all the leading candidates when it comes to support for scientific research and his own personal understanding of science. His website says nothing about scientific research, and he has explicitly stated that he supports creationism and rejects evolutionary theory. He also believes students in public schools should be taught creationism. One can only guess what he would recommend for the NIH and NSF budgets, but I fear the worst.

Democratic presidential candidates

Hillary Clinton has by far the most explicit and detailed set of positions on science and scientific research, with 9 major points, all very strongly supportive of science. Note that I am not currently planning to vote for Sen. Clinton, but I was very impressed by her science policy and it may yet change my mind. The entire plan is at http://www.hillaryclinton.com/feature/innovation. Here are some highlights (verbatim):
1. Increase the basic research budgets 50% over 10 years at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Defense Department.
2. Increase research focus on the physical sciences and engineering.
3. Require that federal research agencies set aside at least 8% of their research budgets for discretionary funding of high-risk research.
4. Boost support for multidisciplinary research in areas such as the intersection of bio, info, and nanotechnologies.
5. Increase the NIH budget by 50% over 5 years and aim to double it over 10 years.
6. Increase investment in the non-health applications of biotechnology in order to fuel 21st century industry.
7. Triple the number of NSF fellowships and increase the size of each award by 33 percent.
8. Restore integrity to science policy. It is important to reinvigorate the Office of Science and Technology Policy to ensure that the President receives objective, fact-based advice.
Barack Obama has two statements on science and scientific research on his website, both supportive. First, he has a detailed plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, described here. Second, he strongly supports increased funding for basic scientific research, as in this quote:
Invest in the Sciences: Barack Obama supports doubling federal funding for basic research, changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology.
For more details on Obama's position, see his website here.

John Edwards has a broad agenda (like Clinton, he calls it his "innovation" agenda) with 6 points, two of which are about scientific research and science policy, as follows:
* Supporting American Ingenuity: The most important factor for America's future prosperity is investment in education, science, technology and innovation. ... Ideological debates at NIH about things like stem cell technology have drained resources from promising research. Edwards will increase spending on basic research at the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health and lift stifling research restrictions. He will also modernize our patent laws — which haven't been updated in 50 years — to provide incentives for research.
* Respecting Science: John Edwards ... will make sure that government professionals charged with the collection and analysis of scientific data — from medical research to mercury emissions — are insulated from political influence. As president, he will:
- Eliminate political litmus tests for government scientists.
- Protect the integrity of government science by prohibiting political appointees from overriding agencies' scientific findings unless the chief White House science advisor concludes they are erroneous.
- Reverse the demotion of the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and restore the office to a central role as an assistant to the president, a rank held in previous administrations.
See Edwards’ full policy at http://www.johnedwards.com/issues/innovation.

Finally, one independent who is still a non-candidate, but who may yet run (see http://draftmichael.com), is Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and also the chairman of the Board of Trustees at Johns Hopkins University. He is not only a very strong supporter of scientific research, he is also scientifically literate. Here is a quote from him on evolution:
“It boggles the mind that nearly two centuries after Darwin, and 80 years after John Scopes was put on trial, the country is still debating the validity of evolution.... This not only devalues science, it cheapens theology. As well as condemning these students to an inferior education, it ultimately hurts their professional opportunities.”
Unlikely as an independent candidacy is to win, I hope Bloomberg runs – but regardless of whether he does or doesn’t, I'd be encouraged if any of the leading candidates would be brave enough, and intelligent enough, to make similar strong statements. Scientific and biomedical research are critically important to improving the human condition – for everyone, not just for narrow special interests - and the U.S. government has been the largest supporter of research in the world for many years. I hope that the next president will strengthen our commitment to science.


  1. You made a mistake by including Rudy and not McCain.

  2. Actually, I thought about this, and I did review McCain's website, but I wanted to include just 3 from each party. McCain is far behind Giuliani so I didn't consider the option you suggest. If Huckabee hadn't won Iowa, I'd have probably left him out in favor of McCain.
    In any case, McCain's website doesn't have a science policy either. The only thing I could find - which was positive - is that he acknowledges that global warming is a serious problem. But he doesn't say anything explicitly about his support for scientific and biomedical research.

  3. Ron Paul doesn't believe in Evolution. Sadly, I believe he is the most rational republican.
    Ron Paul on evolution

  4. Unlikely as an independent candidacy is to win, I hope Bloomberg runs

    You really want an independent progressive to run? And suck away needed votes from the Democratic candidate the way Nader did in 2000? No thanks.

  5. Hi Steve, This is quite intersting and useful. It will help me make up my mind. Thanks
    Hoda Khouri

  6. Hi Dr. Salzberg. I a glad you did this. I was asking people in our lab at UCSC where the candidates stood on the funding biomedical research.

    Badger--The sucking votes idea assumes that greens are really democrats in disguise. However, it is also possible that green party voters might see themselves as different from a democrat as a democrat sees themselves from a republican. (Nader is filing a suit claiming that democrats also rig elections and use unfair intimidation tactics. http://www.gp.org/press/pr-national.php?ID=1

  7. McCain is far behind Giuliani so I didn't consider the option you suggest.

    Really? I thought Giuliana was falling, and fast.

  8. To RPM: Giuliani isn't campaigning in New Hampshire but is focusing on the big states - Florida, NY, California. So it might look like he is falling but maybe not. Anyway, if things clear up then I will update the main post - but not until we've had at least a couple more primaries.

  9. RPM is right, I should have included McCain - he isn't going away, it seems. So I've added a new entry to my post as of today describing what I could find on his positions.

  10. Thanks for this very useful post. It might actually influence who I vote for in the primary.

    I wonder where the Democrats plan to get the money to increase NIH/NSF funding. I guess the savings from not firing patriot missiles go a long way. Now to read your more recent posts.

    BTW, you asked me about blog readers. I use: http://www.google.com/reader


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