A coalition of U.S. nonpartisan organizations representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers is calling on journalists to press the presidential candidates about major science policy issues in the lead-up to the election.
The nonprofit ScienceDebate.org has been running a campaign calling for at least one presidential debate exclusively focused on science, health, tech, and environmental issues. It teamed up with several prominent science-focused organizations -- including the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Union of Concerned Scientists; and more -- to crowdsource the best science-related questions for the candidates. Now, the coalition of 56 organizations has released its list of 20 questions for journalists to ask the presidential candidates. In a press release, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that a president’s “attitude toward and decisions about science and research affect the public wellbeing, from the growth of our economy, to education, to public health.” The coalition’s list of 20 suggested questions for candidates contains topics ranging from space exploration to vaccination to technological innovations, and three of the questions focus on addressing global changes in the climate:
- 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?
- We now live in a global economy with a large and growing human population. These factors create economic, public health, and environmental challenges that do not respect national borders. 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?
- 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?
Such questions would fill a glaring gap in the debates thus far. A Media Matters analysis found that only 1.5 percent of the questions posed to candidates during the first 20 presidential primary debates were about climate change. Instead, the debate moderators gave outsized attention to the political horse race and other non-substantive issues. And, of the few climate-related questions that were asked during the primary debates, zero were directed to Donald Trump.
Now the case for pressing Trump on the issue is even greater, given recent comments he has made. This week, Trump announced he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and “rescind” the Climate Action Plan. He has also repeatedly called global warming a “hoax” and recently told The Washington Post’s editorial board that he is “not a great believer in man-made climate change.”
In his book The War on Science, ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto wrote that in 2008, media figures dismissed his concerns that science policy issues were being overlooked in the presidential race. News directors and editors told Otto that they “thought it was a niche topic, and the public wasn’t interested.” But a 2015 national poll commissioned by ScienceDebate.org and Research!America shows that a large majority of Americans “say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.” And a more recent Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans worry about global warming, leading Gallup to conclude that “Americans are now expressing record- or near-record-high belief that global warming is happening, as well as concern about the issue.”