I have been following politics much more closely this year compared to my usual skim of the NY Times homepage over a bowl of cereal. I don’t know if it’s the excitement of the Democratic National Convention coming to Philadelphia or perhaps the fear of being strapped with an ill-informed, racist lunatic for president.
I suspect it has something to do with Hillary Clinton, one of my childhood idols, clinching the democratic nomination. Although I have come to realize that she is far from perfect – something I certainly did not see at 14 years old – I continue to have immense respect for her. Ezra Klein touched on some of these reasons in his article for Vox.com last week, the culmination of interviewing Clinton and speaking with over 300 people who worked for and with her over the years.
If you are looking for another think-piece about Clinton’s strengths, weaknesses, or scandals, this isn’t it. There are so many places you can get this information right now. Instead, I wanted to focus on a president’s impact on federally-funded scientific research and Clinton’s policy stances related to this topic. One question you might have is: does the president have any tangible impact on scientific research in the US? After all, there are many government agencies responsible for funding decisions and directions.
While there are many intricacies to presidential impact on research, in short, the president is responsible for setting a proposed Congressional budget. Clearly this is tweaked, and often completely redesigned, by Congress itself. The budget includes funding for agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF) and Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). When the White House outlines the proposed budget, there is detailed allocation of funds to institutes and centers within these larger agencies.
One example of this detailed allocation is The Common Fund, the pot of money managed by the NIH director’s office and typically used for launching cross-discipline initiatives. And, the president selects the director of the NIH. The current director is Francis Collins, selected by President Obama in 2009. He keeps a blog that I like to read every once in a while.
As you may have gathered from my rambling explanation, the president’s impact on science is strong, but certainly not make-or-break. Research will go on, but science can be better with a champion in the White House. Below are some particularly interesting components of Clinton’s policy views – many of which I hope she advocates for starting in 2017.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find too much information from the Trump Campaign on this issue… (I really looked! This is his Issues page.) Paul Offit, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, further clarified this in an article from STAT. “I think it is fair to say that Donald Trump is a black box. He says one thing one day and the opposite the next,” Offit said. “So he certainly scares me far more than Hillary Clinton, who has generally supported public health.”
Lifting restrictions on federally funded research into gun violence. Although it’s not neuroscience, epigenetics, or an innovative biomaterial, this area of research is incredibly important because we know next to nothing about it and it’s clearly an issue in the US. It was first banned in 1996 when the NRA accused the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of promoting gun control and Congress threatened to strip the agency’s funding.
When this ban was recently renewed in 2015, former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) explained, "A gun is not a disease. The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”
Increasing the budgets of the NIH and NSF. Specifically, Clinton is interested in providing greater support to Alzheimer’s disease research, increasing funding to $2 billion. Other initiatives she has specifically outlined include autism research, addiction/substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS.
Continuing to fund the space program. Clinton has been asked if she supports continued funding for NASA given the relatively strong private sector of aerospace research and development. Although she is not against partnering with companies, Clinton stated that, "…they are more in the applied science arena, not in the discovery and research arena that I think only the government can support."
Increasing research focus on carbon capture and sequestration. Coal, an important part of the US economy in many regions, is a known contributor to environmental damage when burned for fuel. The sulfur dioxide released from burning coal can lead to acid rain and, in the long-term, carbon dioxide released from burning coal is known to contribute to climate change. Because coal is a widely used source of fuel (and provides many jobs in particular pockets of the US) many people are wary of completely moving away from it. Instead, some are suggesting an alternative: keep the coal, but capture the carbon dioxide. Current carbon capture techniques, in which carbon dioxide is captured from a particular source and deposited in a location where it will not enter the atmosphere, are expensive and not feasible for many companies. Additional R&D to bring down the cost of carbon capture, and possibly turn the CO2 into a recyclable, renewable resource, would be an amazing win for jobs and the environment. Increased funding to move these technologies forward, is outlined at hillaryclinton.com.
- You can learn more about Clinton’s views here: https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/.
- And Donald Trump: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/issues/.
- I think this article does a good job of outlining some of the statements Trump has made so far about research and development, since his Issues page is severely lacking.
- This article about grant writing in the Trump administration is also pretty amusing.