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Science Consortium Calls On U.S. Presidential Candidates to Address Key S&T Questions

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A blue-ribbon coalition of fifty-six leading U.S. nonpartisan organizations, representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers, are calling on U.S. Presidential candidates to address a set of twenty major issues in science, engineering, health and the environment, and encouraging journalists and voters to press the candidates on them during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election season.

“Taken collectively, these twenty issues 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,” said chair Shawn Otto, organizer of the effort. A 2015 national poll commissioned by and Research!America revealed that a large majority of Americans (87%) say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.

The group crowd sourced and refined hundreds of suggestions, then submitted “the 20 most important, most immediate questions" to the Presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein, “along with an invitation to the candidates to answer them in writing and to discuss them on television,” said Otto. The questions and answers will be widely distributed to the science community, journalists, and the general public to help voters make well-informed decisions at the ballot box this November.

The list of organizations is a who's who of the American science enterprise.

“Sometimes politicians think science issues are limited to simply things like the budget for NASA or NIH, and they fail to realize that a President's attitude toward and decisions about science and research affect the public wellbeing, from the growth of our economy, to education, to public health. Voters should have a chance to know where the Presidential candidates stand,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “We want journalists and voters to ask these questions insistently of the candidates and their campaign staff.”

“By engaging the candidates in a debate focusing on topics in science, engineering, technology, and innovation,” said Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences. “It would be an opportunity for all voters to gauge how the candidates would use sound technical information in their future decision making.”

“Informing citizens about the health of the nation and discussing pivotal science and policy issues such as mental health, chronic and emerging diseases and other public health threats, and vaccine research, are important to not only advance the national dialogue but also improve the country's overall well-being,” said Victor J. Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine.

“Ahead lie many Grand Challenges for Engineering whose solution in this century have been posited as necessary for simply maintaining our quality of life,” said C. D. Mote, Jr., president of the National Academy of Engineering. “Unfortunately, these challenges stand unrecognized in the US Presidential debates.”

The groups are asking candidates to provide responses by 6 September.

The 20 questions will ensure presidential contenders lay out their positions on leading science and technology issues facing the country before the Nov. 8 elections, said AAAS’ Jessica Wyndham in an 11 Aug. interview on CNN en Espanol’s “Directo USA.” Wyndham, program manager at AAAS, is also slated to appear next week on the NTN24 television network. The appearances are part of the effort’s outreach to Spanish-speaking voters through some of Latin America’s top media outlets, including Univision.

Nonpartisan organizations participating in the effort include:


*American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Association of Geographers

*American Chemical Society

American Fisheries Society

American Geophysical Union

*American Geosciences Institute

*American Institute of Biological Sciences

American Institute of Professional Geologists

American Rock Mechanics Association

American Society for Engineering Education

American Society of Agronomy

American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists

American Society of Mammalogists

American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

Association for Women in Geosciences

Association of Ecosystem Research Centers

Automation Federation

*Biophysical Society

Botanical Society of America

Carnegie Institution for Science

Conservation Lands Foundation

Crop Science Society of America

Duke University

Ecological Society of America

Geological Society of America


International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Materials Research Society

NACE International, The Worldwide Corrosion Authority

*National Academy of Engineering

*National Academy of Medicine

*National Academy of Sciences

National Cave and Karst Research Institute

*National Center for Science Education

National Ground Water Association

Natural Science Collections Alliance

Northeastern University

Organization of Biological Field Stations

Paleontological Society


Scientific American magazine

Seismological Society of America

*Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society

Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections

Society of Fire Protection Engineers

Society of Wetland Scientists

Society of Women Engineers

Soil Science Society of America

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Tufts University

*Union of Concerned Scientists

University City Science Center

*U.S. Council on Competitiveness

The Wildlife Society

World Endometriosis Research Foundation America


*Codeveloper of the questions

**Lead partner organization


The consortium’s list of 20 questions are available online at

Supporters of the initiative offered the following additional comments:

Norm Augustine, U.S. aerospace industry CEO and former Under Secretary of the Army:

“The solution to many of the greatest challenges faced by our nation will depend to a large degree upon advancements in the fields of science and engineering. Such challenges include conquering diseases, creating jobs, developing clean energy, providing adequate water supplies, and defending our nation from terrorists and foreign aggressor nations. It is difficult to imagine how any citizen can intelligently cast their ballot without knowing where each candidate stands on the policy issues that will define whether America remains a leader or becomes a follower in the critical fields of science and engineering.”

Thomas M. Connelly, Jr., executive director and chief executive officer of the American Chemical Society:

“Science is essential for the economic prosperity of our country. It creates jobs, improves our lives and makes our world healthier, safer and more sustainable. The broader chemistry enterprise directly employs well over 800,000 people in the United States and serves as an important component of our nation’s innovation engine, helping drive job creation and economic growth.  So it’s vital that candidates acknowledge and address the important role science plays in our economy, now and in the future.”

Edward Egelman, public affairs chairman and past president of the Biophysical Society:

“Most Americans recognize that science and technology play an increasingly important role in many aspects of our lives. It is also science and technology that will drive the U.S. economy this century. It is imperative, therefore, that people who would like to lead our country provide us with their thoughts on issues involving science and technology.”

Robert Gropp, interim co-executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences:

“Science saves lives and improves our quality of life. The federal government provides almost half of the funding for basic research in the United States. This research is the foundation upon which society – from small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies – develops new products that improve human health, secures our food supplies, and solves complex environmental problems. Just think of the benefits we have derived from the government’s support of the Human Genome Project. Scientists now have a base of knowledge they can use to more strategically and precisely study diseases and explore new treatments. The public deserves to know the candidates' positions on science.”

VIDEO: The group also created a video public service announcement featuring children asking the candidates to debate the big science issues facing the country.

AUDIO: Broadcast-quality audio clips of chair Shawn Otto can be downloaded from the ScienceDebate website.

Answers to some key questions about the initiative are available online:

How did the group develop the questions?

Why is this important?

What are some examples of issues?