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The Candidates 2016

The Candidates 2016 and Science

Science is consistently one of the most important issues for me, even as it tends not to get as much attention in political circles as the other subjects we will be covering over the next few months. People underestimate the importance of good science policy and empirical thinking, and no political party has a monopoly on scientific illiteracy or pandering paranoia, which is why this is usually the most surprising and difficult subject for me to cover when it comes to the presidential candidates.



Vaccines

Nurse with needle
Orders of magnitude less risky than measles, mumps, and rubella
Vaccination is the most successful and least harmful public health intervention of all time. Vaccines do not cause autism, no matter what Andrew Wakefield or Jenny McCarthy would have you believe, and while it is possible for vaccines to cause other medical complications in some people, the benefits outweigh the risks by about a million to one. The incredibly dangerous and naive anti-vax movement has already done enough damage to cost the lives of children across the world and has lead to a needless increase in vaccine-preventable illnesses. Since choosing not to vaccinate your child harms not only your child but others as well (including the immuno-compromised, the poor, the elderly, cancer patients on chemo, and those who otherwise cannot get vaccinated), I firmly believe that public welfare outweighs personal choice in this matter and that childhood vaccinations should be absolutely mandatory, at the very least for any child who wishes to go to public school. I have little patience for anyone who argues that vaccines are dangerous, simply because science and reason do not back them up in the slightest. Anti-vaxers are indirectly responsible for killing people with their ignorance, and I have no tolerance for that.

In a 2015 tweet, Clinton indicated a strong belief in the effectiveness of vaccines, though I can find no direct evidence that she supports mandatory childhood vaccinations. On the other hand, I also can't find any recent evidence that she currently buys into any alleged link to autism (though in 2011, she indicated the vague possibility of a connection), even as she devotes a significant amount of time talking about the need for increased autism awareness, intervention, and funding for research.

Though he has never linked vaccines to autism and has offered no statements to make me think he might be a closetted anti-vaxxer, Gary Johnson has indicated he is against mandatory vaccinations. It's also worth noting that he has voiced support for the position of the Our America Initiative (a non-profit he co-founded), which is the choice whether or not to vaccinate should be up to the parent, guardian, or individual.

Jill Stein's position on the issue of vaccination is a bit more complicated than the others. She voices enthusiastic support for vaccinations and has never, as fas as I can uncover, linked them to autism. However, she is wary of mandatory vaccines because she doesn't trust the "medical-industrial complex" to know what's best for the public.

Donald Trump helped bring the vaccine/autism conspiracy theory to the forefront of the Republican primaries during a 2015 CNN debate in which he expressed concern about the harm of childhood vaccines in large doses, and he has not been shy about sharing his belief that there is a direct link between vaccines and autism (especially on Twitter, though he's been making the case elsewhere for several years).

As I don't believe in grand Big Pharma conspiracies, I can dismiss out of hand both Donald Trump and Jill Stein on the matter of vaccines. And though I can appreciate his purity to Libertarian ideals, I must also discount Gary Johnson for his refusal to acknowledge the need for a mandatory vaccination schedule. That leaves Hillary Clinton, who is more firm on the subject than any of the other candidates (and even President Obama, incidentally). Though she hasn't offered vocal support for them, she also isn't opposed to mandatory vaccines, nor does she seem terribly interested in pandering to anti-vax lunacy. Therefore, on the matter of vaccines, she is the clear sole winner for me.



Evolution

Darwin
Even Darwin can't believe we're still debating this
This shouldn't even be a political topic, and yet it is. A shocking number of people in this country still doubt the science of evolution, which is ridiculous for anyone who knows even a little bit about it. They insist that evolution shouldn't be taught in schools (which would basically set all science classrooms back to the Eighteenth Century), or that the non-existent "controversy" should at least be explained to impressionable minds under the guise of "academic freedom" or "intelligent design theory." As with the anti-vaxers, evolution deniers don't have a leg to stand on, scientifically-speaking, and have merely vieled a carefully nurtured religious bigotry beneath a layer of pseudo-intellectualism and credulousness. I don't want these people within a hundred feet of a science classroom, much less in any position of power to dictate science curriculum. Unfortunately, with our education system so firmly under the boot of government, the positions of power are open and available to them.

Clinton hasn't made any mention of evolution or creationism in the classroom in recent years--nor is it covered on her website or the 2016 DNC platform--though she has made pretty firm statements in the past about both, most recently in 2007 when she said, "I believe in evolution." Similarly--and despite exhaustive research into his stated positions both old and new on science and education--I can find no evidence that Donald Trump has made any reference whatsoever to evolution, creationism, intelligent design, or "teach the controversy" nonsense. It's essentially a non-issue for him, as far as I can tell.

In 2012, Gary Johnson said he supports the theory of evolution, but he also vehemently opposes federal involvement in education. From the same source, Jill Stein also makes it clear she supports the theory of evolution, but her position on federal involvement in education is pretty much the exact opposite of Johnson's.

There are no clear losers on this issue. While it is tempting to discount Trump on account of the creationist evangelicals who usually lean toward the Republican party, Trump is hardly an evangelical role model eager to please that particular contingent on their own turf. Still, his silence on the issue prevents him from getting a point. And while I have reservations about the education policies of both Clinton and Stein, that is not the issue here. Therefore, the other three all get points for clearly stating that evolution is a real thing.

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