Science is the basis for most forms of quantifiable progress. With population growth steadily decreasing each coming decade, enhancements in technology are the only way to increase productivity, and in turn, GDP. Furthermore, science and technology are directly responsible for enhanced standards of living as well as increased life expectancy. Despite its importance, we hear very little about the candidates’ positions on issues related to science. Here, we look at science as it pertains to energy, transportation, healthcare, education, and research and development, and we examine how each candidates’ policies may impact the future of science.
President Obama’s rhetoric on the campaign trail focuses on his Research and Development (R&D) budget on a number of key issues. He highlights the need to promote clean, American energy, create high-tech manufacturing jobs, support medical research, greater STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, enhanced infrastructure, and spur innovation. He claims that by focusing on the three key science agencies—the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) labs – the United States will preserve its status as the leader of innovation. Below, we look at the President’s actual budget allocations to see if they match his rhetoric.
President Obama has outlined his current budget for research and development as well as anticipated budgets for fiscal year 2013 and 2014. Not surprisingly, defense R&D has taken a major hit with a 1.5% decrease while President Obama pushes for a 5.0% increase in non-defense R&D spending. Most budget increases are in transportation, energy, and commerce, while the highest cuts in spending come from defense, health and human services, and agriculture. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian and education spending remain almost unchanged.
Governor Romney has also tried to win the scientific vote, but because he is not currently involved in a government role, data about his plan’s specifics is limited. He has, however, released a few memos that detail his plans for science and innovation. Specifically, he has noted that although he believes that federal spending is too large, the United States “must not lose sight of those policies that are working” and that research is “a crucial engine” for innovation that cannot “be replicated through other sources of funding.” While Romney acknowledges the driving role that science and technology have on economic growth, non-defense R&D still takes a hit in his budget plan. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) notes that Romney’s budget plan would “likely” take a 5% in non-defense R&D spending, but is unsure of the specifics of the cuts. For now, the Romney campaign has only outlined plans for addressing energy innovation, not R&D investments in other areas such as the life sciences, nanotechnology, and advanced manufacturing.
In early September, both President Obama and Governor Romney answered questions provided by sciencedebate.org. The debate provided a platform for both campaigns to raise arguments related to science that are rarely hit on in campaigns. Again, we fact check the candidates’ promises.
Plans on doubling funding key research agencies to support scientists and entrepreneurs and to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade.
This is a substantial promise to make to scientists. Unfortunately, in a politically bitter climate, the likelihood of this occurring is low. That being said, the Obama administration appears to have undertaken substantial work to increase the number of STEM teachers through a program known as the STEM Master Corps.
The U.S. is importing 3 million fewer barrels of oil every day since Obama took office.
While this is true, the reality is that the biggest reason for the decrease in oil consumption is the depressed economy, not President Obama’s energy plans.
Proposed a goal to invest 3 percent of our GDP in public and private R&D—exceeding the level achieved at the height of the space race. Also supports making the R&D tax credit permanent.
3 percent is too large to gain bipartisan approval and pass, making this goal unlikely. The R&D tax credit, however, is one that would gain bipartisan support and has been endorsed by Governor Romney.
Believes in an all-of-the above energy approach that will responsibly develop America’s energy resources—including natural gas, wind, solar, oil, clean coal, and biofuels.
This response is pure rhetoric designed to win over votes. We know that clean coal is not clean, and that while biofuels look promising, there is still plenty of work to be done to make them economically feasible.
Supports a free and open Internet, but still supports legislation designed to protect intellectual property.
Again, this sounds good, but essentially it argues for preserving the status quo.
Supports a national clean water framework as well as expanding access to rural communities.
While this may seem like an obvious position to support, this will likely be one of his key accomplishments if he wins a second term. It will demonstrate his commitment to enhancing infrastructure in a way that will be difficult for opponents to oppose.
Plans on promoting innovation by simplifying the corporate tax code, regulatory burdens, and by protecting American intellectual property
While simplification and reduction of taxes and regulation may (or may not) help economically, there doesn’t seem to be a direct impact to innovation. Deregulation and free-market based programs are key points Romney makes throughout this science debate. Furthermore, he does not explain how he plans on protecting American intellectual property. I would be concerned about the possibility of another Apple v. Samsung case unless real reform can be made.
Raise Visa caps for highly skilled foreign workers
It is about time.
Believes in a “No Regrets” policy regarding lower emissions because of a lack of scientific consensus on global warming that will benefit the US regardless of how global warming plays out.
As a believer in human caused global warming, I hesitate to call this a “No Regrets” policy – it would perpetuate the unsustainable path the United States is on. In Romney’s defense, this is a similar model that Obama outlined in his all-of the-above energy policy.
K-12 education policy focuses on promoting choice and innovation, ensuring high standards, and recruiting and rewarding great teachers.
His response fails to explain how he will increase education in the sciences. This is the same rhetoric given by most Republican candidates.
The FCC’s “Net Neutrality” regulation is ultimately a “solution in search of a problem.”
A very powerful attack and a valid argument.
A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities. I will ensure that NASA has practical and sustainable missions
This sounds reasonable, and I am curious to hear what these priorities will be.
The candidates’ full responses can be viewed here.