This article is from the In-Depth Report Election 2012: Grading Obama and Romney on Science

Science in an Election Year

Scientific American rates the candidates' answers to 14 science questions


The earth's climate is changing, and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes and other policies proposed to address global climate change? And what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

OBAMA rightly notes that “climate change is one of the biggest issues of this generation” and goes on to detail the modest ways his administration has attempted to address it: from improving vehicle fuel efficiency to reducing the federal government's greenhouse gas emissions. Yet Obama is vague about what role the U.S. should play in international efforts to curb global warming and omits any larger plan for reducing emissions domestically through new legislation or regulation. He gets credit for acknowledging the problem and for efforts that are already in place, but he loses credit for not specifying a path forward or stating his position on the policies outlined in the question.

ROMNEY reverses his previous statements and accepts the notion that human activity has caused changes in climate. Yet he inaccurately cites a “lack of scientific consensus” on the extent of human contributions and severity of the impacts and asserts his support for “continued debate.” He correctly states that the problem is “global warming, not America warming.” He calls for government investment in energy innovation research. But he does not address how his administration would work with other nations to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. He gets credit for clearly stating his position on the potential solutions in the question (he opposes them).


Federally funded research has helped to produce America's major postwar economies and to ensure our national security, but today the U.K., Singapore, China and Korea are making competitive investments in research. Given that the next Congress will face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in research in your upcoming budgets?

OBAMA highlights the research funding contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aka the stimulus package. He touts the bill's $90 billion marked for clean energy projects as “the largest single investment in clean energy in American history.” The Recovery Act was a one-time shot of money, however. He also includes vague statements supporting medical and defense research. Like Romney, Obama supports making the R&D tax credit permanent.

ROMNEY writes that he is a “strong supporter of federally funded research,” but he criticizes the $90 billion in clean energy funds in the stimulus package, saying that the same amount “could have funded the nation's energy research programs at the level recommended in a recent Harvard University study for nearly 20 years.” Yet the report in question, “Transforming U.S. Energy Innovation,” recommends spending billions in clean energy research (among other areas), and $90 billion would last nine years, not 20. Romney does not indicate what his research priorities would be.

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