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

ROMNEY hits this question head-on, stating that the U.S. could supply its own rare-earth elements if it “modernized” environmental regulations, which he blames for shutting down the Mountain Pass mine (although he does not name it). He also advocates letting states “manage the development of energy resources within their borders, including on federal lands.” Romney says that plan would benefit all forms of energy, but its effects would fall mainly on oil, natural gas and coal.


Vaccination campaigns against preventable diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough depend on widespread participation to be effective. In some communities, however, vaccination rates have fallen off sharply. What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and in what circumstances should exemptions be allowed?

ROMNEY correctly notes that the “vaccines only work to prevent outbreaks when a sufficient number of people are protected from the diseases” but offers no solutions to increase vaccination rates. He focuses on business aspects of making and researching vaccines and scores higher on feasibility but loses credit for not answering the question completely.

OBAMA uses the question as a springboard to talk about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was enacted into law in 2010. He accurately notes that the ACA is expanding access to preventive health care services, including vaccines. Yet he ignores a major reason why vaccine rates are falling in some communities—the erroneous belief that vaccines might cause autism.

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