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Although not top-tier issues, candidates have addressed research-related topics
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Science on the campaign trail: Where the presidential candidates stand

The 2016 presidential election season gets underway in earnest today as voters cast their first ballots at the Iowa caucuses. As usual, science-related issues aren’t getting much attention from the candidates, as the debate has been dominated by national security, immigration policy, and the economy. But science does sometimes creep into the conversation, and ScienceInsider has been keeping its ears perked.

Here’s an overview of where the candidates stand on some select science-related issues (keeping in mind that the candidates have yet to sound off on many topics of interest to researchers).



Former Senator (D–NY) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she “would increase funding for scientific research at agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation.” Has called for “rapidly” ramping up NIH spending on Alzheimer’s disease to $2 billion per year (from about $600 million now), with the goal of making a “cure possible by 2025.” Would support greater funding for research into autism, and launch a “first-ever adult autism prevalence study” in order to provide better services to adults on the autism spectrum.

Former Governor Martin O’Malley (D–MD) has supported stem-cell research involving human embryos (although he is a devout member of the Catholic Church, which has opposed many forms of embryonic stem cell research).

Senator Bernie Sanders (I–VT) has said he believes stem-cell research “represents an exciting and promising line of research that could provide treatments and cures for many debilitating diseases." Bernie has voted in the past to approve further stem cell research.


Former Governor Jeb Bush (R–FL) has called for boosting biomedical research funding. “As we’ve cut back with NIH funding and other types of research funding, we lose the initiative to cure diseases,” Bush has said. “And I think this is an appropriate role for government.”

Dr. Ben Carson, when asked whether he would support continued biomedical research funding, said: “Having been in science and research my whole life, I’m struggling to try to remember anybody I’ve ever known who thought they had enough funding.” Expressed opposition last year to national standards for education, but said he supports efforts to emphasize STEM education, saying, “These technical skills are the infrastructure of innovation. We are falling behind and it is shameful.”

Governor John Kasich (R–OH) has called for doubling NIH’s budget. Has said he will “initiate a comprehensive review of federal policies to identify and eliminate barriers to research, innovation, commercialization of new breakthroughs and start-up business success.”

Senator Rand Paul (R–KY) has not said much about research funding this year, but in 2012, called for reducing NIH funding to 2008 levels, explaining that the private sector already does billions of dollars’ worth in research and development.

Former Senator Rick Santorum (R–PA) is a strong backer of adult stem-cell research, and opposed to embryonic stem-cell research because he views destruction of embryos as destruction of human life.


Clinton has said she is a strong backer of the space program, though specifics are lacking.

Sanders acknowledges that he has voted to cut funding for NASA on multiple occasions, but has said: “In general, I do support increasing funding for NASA.”

Bush has said that he sees himself as a “space guy.”

Carson: NASA is “becoming even more crucial,” he said, and believes the country needs “a new focus” on space. “The technology spin-off is astounding,” he said.

Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX) said last year that NASA should focus on space, not on earth science, which he views as not qualifying as a hard science. “We need to get back to the hard sciences, to manned space exploration, and to the innovation that has been integral to NASA,” he said. Served as key author on bill to promote commercial space flight and asteroid mining.

Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) co-sponsored bill for promoting commercial space flight and asteroid mining.

Donald Trump said last year that space is “terrific” but that filling potholes may be more important, because “you know, we don't exactly have a lot of money." He expressed enthusiasm for private sector–led space flight.


The Democratic candidates all accept the idea that humans contribute to climate change, and they all agree that the government should take action to address it. They differ in some respects on solutions, including on how to boost or incentivize renewable energy production.

  • Clinton has praised the economic benefits and lower carbon emissions of natural gas while calling for “smart” regulations on fossil fuels.
  • O’Malley has called for further promoting biofuels.
  • Sanders has indicated that he would go even further than Clinton and O’Malley, by calling for a carbon tax to incentivize a transition to cleaner energy sources that would be  paired with measures to discourage or limit fossil fuel use.

Many of the Republican candidates reject or doubt that climate change is occurring or that humans are contributing.

Other Republicans have suggested that climate change is real and/or that humans contribute to it, but some have waffled the severity of the problem.

  • Bush has said that humans contribute to climate change.
  • Governor Chris Christie (R–NJ) said last fall that we “cannot say that our activity doesn’t contribute to changing the climate.” But he added, “I don’t see evidence that it’s a crisis.”
  • Carly Fiorina has acknowledged that humanmade climate change is real but added that the solutions are unlikely to make a difference.
  • Kasich has said on multiple occasions that he believes humans contribute to climate change to an unknown extent. On one occasion, however, he expressed doubt about it before walking it back.
  • Paul said last year that humans “may” contribute to climate change. Voted yes on Senate measure affirming that humans contribute to climate change.

Where virtually all Republican candidates agree, however, is on their opposition to Obama’s climate policy agenda and their concerns about the economic impacts of government action. Here, the differences lie more in rhetoric than in policy proposals. Here are some of the more noteworthy remarks certain candidates have said:

  • Bush said last fall that he wasn’t sure whether he would have gone to Paris in December 2015 for the climate negotiations as president.
  • Christie has said, “We shouldn't be destroying our economy in order to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves [are] going to fix the climate.”
  • Fiorina said last year that Obama has spent too much time on climate change, and not enough on fighting terrorism. Called the Paris climate deal “baloney.”
  • Kasich said last year if he was president, he would have attended the Paris negotiations but would have preferred to spend his time building a coalition for fighting terrorist groups. On a separate occasion, he said of climate change that he didn’t want to “overreact to it.”
  • Paul said last fall that he would roll back Obama’s climate regulations for power plants on day one of his presidency in favor of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.
  • Rubio has also called for rolling back Obama’s “illegal” climate rules. Said he would have turned COP21 into a summit on defeating the Islamic State group.
  • Santorum said last year he opposes Obama’s climate initiatives, which he worries will kill jobs.
  • Trump said on Instagram last year, “While the world is in turmoil and falling apart in so many different ways, especially with ISIS [the IS group], our President is worried about global warming. What a ridiculous situation.”


Clinton: A year ago, she tweeted that “#VaccinesWork,” attacking some Republicans for raising doubts about vaccines’ safety, likening their distrust to denying that Earth is round. But during her 2008 presidential run, in response to an autism advocacy group’s questions, she cited vaccines as one possible environmental cause of autism, despite widespread scientific agreement that vaccines don’t cause autism.

O’Malley said last year that he “believes it is critically important for every family to vaccinate their children.”

Sanders said last year that he was “sensitive to the fact that there are some families who disagree” on the safety of vaccines, but he noted the public health implications of leaving children unvaccinated. “If I have a kid who is suffering from an illness who is subjected to a kid who walks into a room without vaccines that could kill that child, and that’s wrong.”

Bush: “Parents ought to make sure their children are vaccinated,” he said last year.

Carson: Last year he suggested that vaccine schedules should be spread out because “we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time.” Previously had backed mandatory vaccinations, without exceptions for philosophical or religious objection.

Christie said last year that parents should have a “measure of choice,” as “not every vaccine is created equal and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”

Cruz said last year that “of course” children should be vaccinated, but suggested that religious or philosophical exceptions to mandates are “an appropriate judgment” for states to make.

Fiorina said last year that parents should have the right to choose, citing religious liberty concerns. She said she supports schools being able to deny entry to students who are unvaccinated for certain illnesses, but not for lacking other, “esoteric” immunizations.

Huckabee has backed mandatory vaccinations.

Kasich has backed mandatory vaccinations. “This is not a choice. Are you kidding me?” he said when asked by a reporter about it.

Paul said last year that he’s not antivaccine but that most vaccines ought to be voluntary. He also said he supports lettings parents space out vaccine schedules even if science says bunching them is safe.

Rubio has backed mandatory vaccinations, with exceptions for children with health problems affecting the immune system.

Santorum said last year he supports vaccines but didn’t specify whether they should be mandatory.

Trump said last year he believes vaccines could cause autism.


Clinton has expressed support for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “There is a big gap between what the facts are and what the perceptions are,” she said. But has opposed congressional efforts to block states from require GMO labeling.

Sanders has backed mandatory labeling for GMOs.

Bush has expressed support for GMOs, opposition to mandatory labeling. “We should not try to make it harder for that kind of innovation to exist. We should celebrate it … I think that's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist,” Bush said.

Christie: On whether GMOs should be labeled,  he said last year, “no.”

Cruz has expressed support for GMOs. “People who decide that's what they want, they can pay for it already. But, we shouldn't let antiscience zealotry shut down the ability to produce low cost, quality food for billions across the globe,” Cruz said. Voted against letting states require labels on GMOs.

Paul voted against letting states require labels on GMOs on constitutional grounds, but raised questions about GMOs safety.

Rubio voted against letting states require labels on GMOs.

Trump sent out but then quickly deleted a tweet that suggested that Ben Carson was leading in Iowa because Monsanto’s corn “creates issues in the brain?”