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Kids ask US presidential candidates to debate science

Republican presidential candidates Ben Carson, Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) look at their watches during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada, perhaps wondering when they will be asked about climate change. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Climate change has been markedly absent from 2016 US presidential debates.

Susanlyn Singroy thinks the candidates for US president should be debating science. The eighth-grader argues that the candidates are talking about money, religion and immigration, but rarely mentioning the science challenges impacting her future. Singroy says, "If they talk about the big science issues, maybe they’ll actually do something about them."

Her point is well taken. The Republican and Democratic candidates for president both held debates just days after the Paris climate summit, yet the debate moderators didn’t ask a single question about climate science—remarkable considering that climate change has emerged as a major global science, economic, environmental, tech, civil infrastructure, and foreign policy challenge. US journalists have similarly avoided asking the candidates about other major science, health, tech, and environmental issues.

So Susan, who wants to be a scientist, decided to volunteer with other kids to create what may be the most memorable political ad you’ll see all year:

I’m chair of, the volunteer-run nonprofit that produced the ad. We’re working with Susanlyn and other kids elevate these issues in the US political dialogue, because they disproportionately affect the next generation.

Candidates for president attend debates dedicated to economics and foreign policy, but science issues now have an equal or greater impact. Voters—and their kids—deserve a nationally televised discussion dedicated to science, health, tech and the environment.

The public seems to agree. and Research!America, a nonprofit that advocates for medical research, recently commissioned a national poll. We found that 87% of likely voters think the candidates for president ought to be well versed on science issues. 91% of Democrats, 88% of Republicans and 78% of Independents also said the presidential candidates should participate in a debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the US.

What would such a debate look like? The possibilities for questions are fascinating, and could fill hours of discussion. Here’s a small sample:

  • Do you support recent efforts to prosecute energy companies for funding denial of climate science?

  • What steps will you take to move the US to a low-carbon economy?

  • What is your vision for maintaining a competitive edge as other countries work to become global forces in science and technology?

  • Would you support tripling investment in mental health research?

  • How should we manage biosecurity in an age of rapid international travel?

  • What should we do about the world’s aging nuclear weapons?

  • Do you support embryonic stem cell research?

  • What steps will you take to stop pollinator die-offs?

  • What steps, if any, would you take to control the global population?

  • How should we manage immigration of skilled workers?

  • In an era of droughts and declining aquifers, what steps will you take to better manage fresh water resources?

  • What should we do to prevent ocean fisheries collapses?

  • What steps should we take to better incorporate science information into our policymaking?

  • What will you do to slow the sixth mass extinction?

  • Should only evolution be taught in science classes, or should intelligent design also be taught?

  • When is it acceptable to implement policies that are contradicted by science?

  • Should pharmaceutical companies be allowed to advertise on public airwaves?

  • Should foods made from genetically modified crops be labeled?

  • Should we regulate the use of nanoparticles in the environment?

  • What steps should we take to stop the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria?

  • Should pharmacists be allowed to deny prescriptions on the basis of religion?

  • Should parents be required to vaccinate their children?

  • Should we initiate a manned mission to Mars?

  • Do you support plans to mine nonferrous minerals in water-rich areas?

  • How should we balance privacy with freedom and security on the Internet?

  • Will you support or oppose further international oil pipeline projects like the Keystone XL?

  • How can we stop anti-science disinformation campaigns from stalling public policy?

  • Would you use the State Department and economic policy to encourage trading partners to adopt uniform environmental standards?

  • What will you do about anticipated economic disruptions posed by driverless vehicles and other robosourcing?

  • Should we deploy artificially intelligent robots in war zones?

Americans deserve answers to these questions, and thinking about them now will make the candidates better qualified for the job they seek in November.

Shawn Otto is a science writer and chair of

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