Grading the Presidential Candidates on Science – By Christine Gorman, Ryan F. Mandelbaum on September 26, 2016


Scientific American evaluates responses from Clinton, Trump, Johnson and Stein to 20 questions

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Credit: MARK MAKELA Getty Images (Hillary Clinton); ALEX WONG Getty Images (Donald TrumpGary Johnson); WIN McNAMEE Getty Images (Jill Stein)  

Two weeks ago, Scientific American asked for your help in grading the presidential candidates on their answers to 20 questions about various aspects of scientific endeavor. The questions were refined by a group of scientific institutions representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers, with nonprofit organization ScienceDebate.org as the facilitator.

We received nearly two dozen responses from readers, most of whom not only evaluated the candidates’ responses but provided detailed explanations for their ratings. Overall, Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton scored highest in our readers’ estimation, as well as our own, followed by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Republican Party candidate Donald Trump came in last on all counts. One Ph.D. in biology wrote, “Trump’s answers demonstrate an almost complete ignorance of science or the importance of these imposing problems facing us in maintaining a livable world for everyone.” A clinical microbiologist with 25 years of experience added, “[Trump’s] answers show how uninformed he is on the issues.”  Although Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson’s responses arrived too late for reader evaluations, we have included our assessment of his responses below.

One researcher performed a “qualitative analysis” of the answers, saying that Clinton always starts “with a synthetic review of present data” and builds from there—whereas “Trump never does.” A food policy analyst failed Clinton on the food question for being too narrow in her responses, failed Trump for “partisan rhetoric,” and gave Stein a grade “between pass and fail” for being “clearer on issues pertaining to negative externalities of food production,” but failing “to mention issues of food equity and proper resource management.” A few readers found some of the questions too vague (particularly number 1 on innovation and number 13 on the global economy), and thus too easy to answer with generalities.

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