20 Science Questions We Need to Ask Clinton and Trump

Ten million researchers want to know what presidential candidates think about drugs, climate change, and vaccines.

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The presidential election is three months away and the American people have heard their candidates speak extensively about immigration, guns, and Hillary Clinton’s emails. But save for a few comments on climate change, what the 2016 candidates haven’t spoken much about is science and technology.

On Tuesday, ten million American scientists and engineers announced that they want that to change and came together to release the twenty questions they believe are the most pressing. The questions are attached to an open letter signed by 56 leading U.S. nonpartisan scientific organizations, who ask the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson to return the answers by September 6. You can think of it as presidential homework, only the answers could decide the future direction of the United States of America.

This effort is led by Shawn Otto, co-founder of the organization He believes it’s important that journalists and the general public do a better job at holding presidential candidates accountable for answering questions on science and technology.

“We’re living in a new era where over the next 40 years, we’re going to be generating as much new knowledge as all of recorded history,” Otto tells Inverse. “We really need to find a more robust way of incorporating that knowledge into our public dialogue so that we’re able to continue to be successful in the democratic process.”

Otto says science will affect voters just as much as economic and foreign policy. When viewers watch debates hosted by media outlets like CNN or Fox, the questions asked typically were not formulated with any input from leading scientific organizations.

Otto says he’s received interest from the campaigns of Clinton, Stein, and Johnson — which is in line with the success of the 2008 and 2012 iterations of this initiative when President Barack Obama, Governor Mitt Romney, and Senator John McCain all answered similar questions. He is less confident that the questions will be answered and returned by the Trump camp.

“The Trump campaign is unusual in this cycle,” says Otto. “My Republican science and engineer policy contacts, who are advisors on domestic policy in D.C., don’t know who is working on these topics at the Trump campaign. We are in contact with the general staff, but we don’t know for certain how they are going to respond. The other campaigns have all communicated receptive, positive interest.”

The twenty questions were purposefully not ranked and are all considered necessary to answer in order to maintain a good quality of life.

Rush Holt, who’s CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, emphasizes that a president’s attitude on science and research affects the growth of the economy, education, and public health. Once the questions are answered and returned, the idea is that they will be posted online by and promoted by the other signatory organizations. In the past, Otto says the answers have generated enough stories to make about 850 million media impressions.

Barack Obama, the science guy.


Have you been dissatisfied with the lack of conversation surrounding tech and science this presidential race? Then you may be wanting to ask your candidates these twenty questions as well:

  1. What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of innovation?
  2. What are your science and engineering research priorities and how will you balance short-term versus long-term funding?
  3. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?
  4. What steps will you take to protect biological diversity?
  5. What steps will you take to protect vulnerable infrastructure and institutions from cyber attack, and to provide for national security while protecting personal privacy on electronic devices and the internet?
  6. What will you do to reduce the human and economic costs of mental illness?
  7. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?
  8. 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?
  9. 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?
  10. If you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Americans?
  11. 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?
  12. How would you manage the US agricultural enterprise to our highest benefit in the most sustainable way?
  13. How would your administration balance national interests with global cooperation when tackling threats made clear by science, such as pandemic diseases and climate change, that cross national borders?
  14. How would science inform your administration’s decisions to add, modify, or remove federal regulations, and how would you encourage a thriving business sector while protecting Americans vulnerable to public health and environmental threats?
  15. How will your administration support vaccine science?
  16. What should America’s national goals be for space exploration and earth observation from space, and what steps would your administration take to achieve them?
  17. How would your administration enlist researchers, medical doctors and pharmaceutical companies in addressing this issue?
  18. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?
  19. Would you support any changes in immigration policy regarding scientists and engineers who receive their graduate degree at an American university? Conversely, what is your opinion of recent controversy over employment and the H1-B Visa program?
  20. 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?
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