Media Call Out Trump For Dodging Key Science Questions

››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

Media are calling out GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump for providing vague and evasive answers to a series of science-related questions posed by a coalition of major science organizations, including a question about climate change. Trump has a long track record of denying the reality of climate change, but he was not asked about the topic during any of the 12 GOP presidential primary debates.

Presidential Candidates Respond To List Of Pressing Science-Related Questions From Major Science Organizations

Coalition Led By ScienceDebate.org Sent 20 Questions To Presidential Candidates. The nonprofit ScienceDebate.org organized a coalition of 56 prominent scientific organizations, representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers, that compiled a list of 20 questions for the presidential candidates on science-related topics. ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto said the topics “have at least as profound an impact on voters' lives as those more frequently covered by journalists, including candidates' views on economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values.” The group conducted a poll, which found that 87 percent of Americans “say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Republican nominee Donald Trump, and Green Party nominee Jill Stein each provided responses to the questionnaire, which were made public on September 13 (Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson has yet to respond). [Media Matters, 8/10/16; American Association for the Advancement of Science, 8/10/16; ScienceDebate.org, accessed 9/13/16]

Questions Address Climate Change, Energy, Water, Regulations, Ocean Health, and Scientific Integrity, Among Other Issues. The list of questions includes the following environment- and energy-related queries:

  • Climate Change: 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?
  • Energy: Strategic management of the US energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?
  • Water: The long-term security of fresh water supplies is threatened by a dizzying array of aging infrastructure, aquifer depletion, pollution, and climate variability. Some American communities have lost access to water, affecting their viability and destroying home values. If you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Americans?
  • Regulations: Science is essential to many of the laws and policies that keep Americans safe and secure. 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?
  • Ocean Health: 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?
  • Scientific Integrity: Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy, but that is predicated on the integrity of that evidence and of the scientific process used to produce it, which must be both transparent and free from political bias and pressure. 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? [ScienceDebate.org, accessed 9/13/16]

Media Call Out Trump For Dodging Science Questions And Providing Vague Answers

Time: Trump “Dismissed Outright Certain Policy Questions.” Time magazine reporter Justin Worland stated that Trump “dismissed outright certain policy concerns,” while Clinton “offered detailed responses on what role the government should play on even the least glamorous of issues.” Worland detailed the stark contrast between Trump’s and Clinton’s answers to questions about climate change, ocean health, and food:

Climate change stands out as perhaps the most egregious area of disagreement between the two candidates, given its stakes and the significant scientific consensus that humans have caused it. Trump, who has previously called global warming a “hoax,” referred to climate change in quotation marks and suggested that “there is still much that needs to be investigated.” Clinton offered an abbreviated recap of her plan to address the issue and called it “a defining challenge of our time.”

Global warming may be the issue with the most obvious contrast, but it is far from the only area where the difference is stark. On protecting ocean health, for instance, Clinton wrote more than 400 words, citing a federal law that protects fisheries and alluding to a plan to promote coastal restoration.

Trump wrote just two sentences on the same topic, saying he would “establish priorities” about how the federal government spends money (presumably with little room for oceans). Trump also questioned the premise of questions of biodiversity, public health and food. “The implication of your question is that there should be central control of American agriculture by the federal government,” Trump wrote in response to a question on food. “That is totally inappropriate.” [Time, 9/13/16]

Wash. Post: Trump “Basically Dodged The Climate Change Question.” Washington Post national reporter Brady Dennis wrote that Clinton’s answers to the ScienceDebate.org questions were “twice as long and noticeably more detailed” than Trump’s. Dennis stated, “Perhaps the starkest contrast between the candidates” was on climate change, and he added:

In his response to the ScienceDebate.org questions, Trump's campaign basically dodged the climate change question, writing that "there is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of 'climate change.'" (Nearly all climate scientists agree that human activity is contributing to the warming of the planet.) [The Washington Post, 9/13/16]

National Geographic: Trump’s Answers Were “Short And Ambiguous.” National Geographic reporter Laura Parker said Trump’s answers to the ScienceDebate.org questions were “short and ambiguous, mixed with contradictory promises to pare back government while expanding his priority programs.” Parker added that Trump “mostly avoids talking about” climate change and pointed out that he “had little to say” about ocean health “other than to assure voters that his administration will work with Congress.” She also noted that on the topic of scientific integrity, “Trump merely writes: ‘Science is science and facts are facts …’ and assures voters of ‘total transparency.’” [National Geographic, 9/13/16]

Huff. Post: Trump “Mostly Avoided The Climate Question.” Huffington Post reporter Kate Sheppard said Trump “mostly avoided the climate question” posed by ScienceDebate.org: “Rather than answer a question about what should be done to address it, Trump raised some hypotheticals.” Sheppard similarly observed that Trump’s answer to the question about regulations was “again characteristically nonspecific”:

They were also asked about regulations ― how science would inform their administration’s decisions to “add, modify, or remove” federal rules, as well as how they would “encourage a thriving business sector while protecting Americans vulnerable to public health and environmental threats.”

Trump’s answer was again characteristically nonspecific. “This is about balance,” he wrote. “We must balance a thriving economy with conserving our resources and protecting our citizens from threats. Science will inform our decisions on what regulations to keep, rescind or add. A vibrant, robust free market system will regulate the private sector.” [The Huffington Post, 9/13/16]

Fast Company: Trump Gives “Runaround” Answers And “Consistently Undermin[es]” Science. Jessica Leber, a staff editor and writer for Fast Company’s Co.Exist, wrote of Trump’s answers:

Donald Trump’s brief answer to a question about scientific integrity in public policy, addressed directly to representatives of more than four dozen leading scientific organizations in America, begins as a bold tautology, even for Trump:

"Science is science and facts are facts," he wrote.

This is the kind of runaround he has given science and technology issues throughout his campaign, offering very few specifics in most cases and, in other cases, consistently undermining the science about issues such as climate change and vaccines.

[...]

Trump’s position page, on the other hand, doesn’t really touch on science or technology issues—though he has made his position as a climate science skeptic clear—so his answers to ScienceDebate are illuminating, contradictory, and, in some cases, frightening. For example, despite his declaration that "science is science," he tells ScienceDebate: "There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change.’" (Scare quotes are his.)

[...]

Trump actually evokes the need to grapple with limited fiscal resources several times as a response to questions related to topics like public health and ocean health. Though it’s realistic to acknowledge inevitable future funding challenges, as a stated up-front policy position, this is a cop-out that basically tells you that these issues will be among the lowest priorities in a Trump administration. [Fast Co.Exist, 9/13/16]

Trump’s Climate Science Denial Has Drawn Criticism, Including From Venerable Science Magazine, But It Was Not Addressed By Any Moderators Of GOP Primary Debates

Scientific American Took Stand Against Trump’s “Lack Of Respect For Science.” Scientific American, which has supported ScienceDebate.org’s push for science questions in presidential debates, took a stand against Trump’s “antiscience” views in an editorial published in the September 1 edition of the magazine, including his denial of man-made climate change and pledge to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency. The editorial stated that Trump “has repeatedly and resoundingly demonstrated a disregard, if not outright contempt, for science,” and added that Scientific American is “not in the business of endorsing political candidates,” but is taking a stand for science this year because the current presidential race “takes antiscience to a previously unexplored terrain.” Trump has repeatedly called global warming a “hoax.” [Media Matters, 8/17/16, 5/26/16]

Trump Was Not Asked About Climate Change During Any GOP Presidential Primary Debates. A Media Matters analysis found that only 1.5 percent of the questions posed to candidates during the first 20 Democratic and Republican presidential primary debates were about climate change. Instead, the debate moderators gave outsized attention to the political horse race and other non-substantive issues. Twelve of the 20 debates were GOP primary debates. Of the few climate-related questions asked during those debates, zero were directed to Trump. [Media Matters, 3/23/16; GOP.com, accessed 9/13/16]

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