The “Politics” of Science in an Election Year

Campaign for Cures

The Campaign for Cures Election 2016 blog features news, analysis, commentary and data about the presidential candidates and congressional races in key states on issues relevant to medical progress. Janice Lloyd, former USA Today senior editor and health reporter, manages The Campaign for Cures blog. You can reach Janice at   Follow Campaign for Cures, a national voter education initiative, on Twitter and Facebook and visit

The “Politics” of Science in an Election Year


Science affects nearly every aspect of our lives, so why is there a lack of conversation between candidates and voters about efforts to advance science and innovation this election season? This topic was the focus of ‘A More Scientific Union’ panel discussion on the Young Turks YouTube Network, hosted by, Research!America and other leading scientific organizations. Research!America CEO and president Mary Woolley, Dr. Harold Varmus, Nobel Laureate, former director of National Cancer Institute and The National Institutes of Health, Research!America board member Dr. Rush Holt and CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Andrew Revkin, New York Times environmental writer and Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx explained why science should be a major topic of discussion with the candidates prior to Election Day. John Iadarola, talk show host, YouTube personality, and political pundit moderated the panel.

The lack of questions related to science during the presidential and vice presidential debates was a missed opportunity for candidates to discuss their views on research and health related issues, Iadarola noted. When asked about the direction of the cancer moonshot and prospects for the initiative to move forward, Dr. Varmus shared his optimism. “I’m a fan of the moonshot because of the following reasons: it doesn’t make any false promises. It doesn’t say that we are going to cure anything by a certain date, it doesn’t specify that we are going to work on certain cancers. It says we can make progress faster if we do certain things in a more efficient way.” Support among congressional leaders for the moonshot is critical, he added.

The panelists also suggested examining the entire drug discovery process to address rising drug prices, from research investments to the current patent system. Woolley underscored the need for voters to query their candidates about the topic in order to invite substantial conversations which will lead to action. “That’s how we get change in this country. It’s when the public demands it,” said Woolley.

In addition to reaching out to elected officials, Woolley encouraged scientists to engage with candidates during the election year. “There is a role for scientists in election years to call candidates running in their district or in their state and say, ‘I’d like to volunteer to be on your scientific advisory committee.’” If candidates speak about science related issues on the campaign trail, they are more likely to take action on them when elected, she noted. The panelists emphasized the need for bridging the gap between scientific understanding and implementing policies related to science. “For climate change, vaccinations, teaching evolution in schools, so many of these issues, we’ve walked away from the evidence,” Dr. Holt lamented. Majora Carter stressed the importance of connecting the dots between science, environment, and sustainability in order to pique the interest of non-scientific audiences.

Encouraging research advocates to tell success stories related to medical progress is another potential avenue for increasing scientific literacy among the general public and policymakers according to the panelists. Revkin placed some of the onus on the media to report on more scientific achievements. Collaboration on a local and global scale is also essential for building scientific understanding of issues, the panel agreed.

To watch the full panel discussion, click here.

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Presidential Candidates Should Participate in Debate on Science

Source: A Research!America and poll of U.S. adults conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics in September 2015.

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