Shawn Otto, a member of a science oriented organization, sciencedebate.org, has written twenty questions regarding scientific topics that affect our nation’s future and the organization sent the list to the four main Presidential candidates with the request that the candidates complete the questions as few scientific topics were discussed in the debates so far.
- The 20 questions: http://sciencedebate.org/20questions
- An article about the project: “Why Aren’t Presidential Candidates being Asked About Science?” http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-08-28/why-arent-presidential-candidates-being-asked-about-science
I’ll give it a go:
- Remaining at the front of innovation is traditional for American values and essential for meeting the challenges of our changing climate, growing population and limited natural resources. Working towards shifting fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy would support innovative research while helping reduce our carbon footprint and protect the future’s climate. Reducing college loan interest rates would help more students afford a university education. Funding career guidance programs to help guide students towards careers with more need for employees could also help guide them into fields with rapid innovation. Modifying immigration rules for specialized VISA workers could help promote hiring more U.S. citizens for STEM jobs instead of favoring lower paid H-1B VISA workers. 
- [more education and less poverty has been associated with more individuals working creatively in artistic endeavors, 15]
- Research and the investment in long-term research projects is essential for driving innovation. The infrastructure of the future will be built in the next few decades. Developing energy efficient solutions for the needs of the future is a priority for funding in addition to renewable energy development. Research into more sustainable and potentially healthier farming techniques is a priority because it impacts the health of citizens and the environment. Funding research to assess hazards of chemicals suspected to be harming the environment or individual health is also a priority. It is easier to not add toxins to the environment then it is to remove them once they have contaminated an area. Funding research into better hazardous waste containment or processing methods is also a priority. To have a safe future we need to protect the present and start building a safer future now.
- Climate change is not only real but has been occurring at more rapid rates than expected. Worse storms and flooding and wild fires have been occurring. The next administration needs to make climate change part of every policy decision because it will impact most areas of life. Zoning and building permits should consider flood and fire risks and make changes based on the climate change predictions. Relocating groups of people from some areas into more weather friendly areas could be done gradually over time, before severe weather events occur, but it would take community support too. It might seem like an odd idea but building underground in hotter climates could provide air conditioned living arrangements for less cost to the environment. The future is going to be hotter, deadly hot in some areas, and having air conditioned living spaces will be required to protect health and life for the more fragile, sick, young, and elderly. Underground it is always about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, maximizing use of geothermal energy where the ground allows also is sensible. Investing in flood friendly housing and business development is a point on my platform. The future will be different so planning and building accordingly will help create jobs now and a safer future for our grandchildren later. Fossil fuel subsidies need to end or be modified so the company can only use the money for changing their company into a new renewable energy focused business and shutting down fossil fuel production and facilities safely or for hazardous waste storage and site clean up. I would need to study the topic of carbon taxing more before having an opinion on the value of that strategy for protecting the climate.
- Biodiversity is associated with healthier species in the ecosystem. Healthier wildlife helps reduce risk of human infection from insect or animal borne diseases. Funding research into the long term risks and benefits of the agricultural herbicides and pesticides and other industrial chemicals in use would help identify which are too damaging for long term use and should be banned and/or identify ways to use them in smaller, safer amounts. Funding research into the risk of genetically modified genes spreading to weeds and how to reduce that problem from occurring needs to be done for the safety of the future environment. It is an ethical question, we are designing and patenting new forms of life in ways that are not possible with normal plant hybridization techniques. Funding a jobs program for teams to provide the hands on labor necessary to clear invasive plants and animals manually instead of with applications of harsh chemicals would support the economy in the present and help protect biodiversity into the future.
- The security of the internet for individuals and the government is a priority that will only increase in importance as more devices and buildings become connected and therefore at risk for being hacked for information or for control of the device or building system. If a hacker can control a city’s street lights, water purification facilities, or voting machines, or a car’s steering controls then the hacker could feasibly create chaos and harm and possibly affect election results. Investing in continuing research and development in the area of cybersecurity is essential to remain ahead of the innovation curve in the world of hacking. Hiring white hat hackers to test systems for vulnerabilities is also an area worth continued funding into the future. As more medical records and medical equipment sensors are going online, cybersecurity has to be there in place first, and needs to be maintained by experts on a regular basis – which requires regulations to be in place for any businesses, or government agencies, which collect and store personal data.
- Mental illness is very personally debilitating and economically also, at approximately $300 billion per year for the American public (per the National Institute of Mental Health’s estimate, information provided in the question). My platform for effective health care suggests a preventative whole health focused approach that would look for the underlying dysfunction and work to teach lifestyle changes to restore function and prevent the dysfunction from returning. Many mental illness symptoms can be related to a variety of nutrient deficiencies or imbalances. Studies or treatments that focus on one nutrient at a time are rarely going to be found helpful if the problem involves several nutrient deficiencies. Genetic differences that cause metabolic susceptibility for nutrient deficiencies to occur may also be an underlying cause. Some people may need high dose supplements of certain nutrients because their body is genetically unable to produce the needed chemical (nutrients are considered essential when all people need them because humans can’t produce the chemical and other chemicals are considered essential for certain populations such as the elderly when normal production of complex chemicals slows down or stops. Funding residential facilities for younger ages is also a need as more young people with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders become adults with limited abilities to live on their own. Residential facilities for the elderly are not a good fit for younger residents as activities would be designed for the older residents abilities and interests. Prisons should not be the primary provider for those with mental illness in the U.S, not if we want to consider the nation fair and just. Prescription medications in use for mental illness need to be assessed for suicide and homicide risks in adults, teens, and children, and funding for research into more effective, and safer therapies should be a priority. Children and teens in foster care and on Medicaid need to be protected from the risks of their being forcibly over-medicated with potentially lethal prescriptions that can also cause significant weight gain, diabetes, and other negative health changes, which can sometimes be permanent. Funding research into the prevention of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders prenatally is also a priority. It would be much cheaper in human and economic costs to simply prevent the mental illness from occurring in the first place.
- The energy portfolio of the U.S. does have significant impact on the economy and environment and foreign policy. Working towards energy independence is a goal affecting foreign policy, using fracking as the primary method however may be harming the environment. Making renewable wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects a priority and ending or changing fossil fuel subsidies to support a company’s transition into a renewable energy industry would be part of my energy strategy for the nation over the next four to eight years. Funding research into safer ways to store nuclear waste is a need as there is leaking barrels of hazardous waste waiting to be cleaned up, and use of thorium as an alternate nuclear source might be a cleaner source of nuclear energy for the future, but is still in research phases .
- The ranking of American students in science and math performance has fallen compared to other nations. My administration would work towards assuring that all students including female and minority students have an equal opportunity to learn STEM topics by promoting a basic curriculum for all public undergraduate schools and charter or private undergraduate schools. All children should have an equal opportunity to learn what is considered to be standard information in science and technology. An equal opportunity however does not mean that all children will do equally well in the same areas of study. Students should be allowed to fail if that is their skill set and they should be guided towards classes that they can pass. And if that is just a basic life skills curriculum then they would at least have gained skills in caring for themselves and might not have also gained a sense of worthlessness and feeling a failure due to being pushed to pass tests and a curriculum they weren’t capable of passing. Other children who could read ahead of the class should be encouraged to do independent studies and advance their learning instead of having to fit in with the standardized testing goals. Homogenizing our students into average test takers has helped bring up the grades of the middle group but may be encouraging students who are struggling to pass to just drop out instead and it may be holding back the more gifted students who have to pretend to pay attention in a class that is paced too slowly for their learning needs.
- Maintaining the public health system is just as important as improving it. Funding for preventative health care needs to be protected as mandates possibly rather than having to be put to vote periodically. My effective health care goals include expanding preventative health care education with group and individualized services. Research on the cost efficiency of preventative health care services in the past has found that money spent on preventative health guidance tends to save more money in acute care health care spending than the cost of the preventative care. Research into the effects of glyphosate on soil bacteria is needed as the herbicide was originally patented as an antibiotic and as it is being used in more areas it may be adding to the development of antibiotic resistant pathogens. Funding for research into more environmentally safe sanitizing products and use of pathogen resistant microbiome friendly cleansers is also a priority. Positive microbes cover surfaces in small amounts and can help protect against more dangerous ones. Providing fluoride treatments topically for children might be safer for the health of individuals across the lifespan and for the environment. Water fluoridation is an old policy that needs to be reevaluated. Vaccinations are important but the safety of all of the ingredients needs to be evaluated and an adverse reaction board needs to be in place that is responsive to all patients and others reporting an adverse reaction. Calcium chloride as an adjuvant in place of aluminum adjuvants should be considered as a safer replacement. Vaccinations have caused encephalitis which can then lead to symptoms similar to autism. Individualized nutrition guidance based on genetic structure could help prevent chronic illness and mental illness and help protect infants’ prenatal development and reduce the number of children who develop autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders. Nutrient deficiencies can leave the infant and mother less protected against developing autoimmune disease and less able to detoxify environmental toxins.
- Without water there is no life. Ensuring access to safe clean water is a challenge that will continue to become more challenging as climate change increases the risk of uneven rainfall with increased risk of droughts and flooding. Evaluating and copying best practices from successful communities could help ensure access to safe water for more people. Preserving water with improved farming methods and regulating where farming can occur is already becoming more critical in areas of California as the drought there has continued for more than one growing season. Water intensive crops should not be grown in areas with limited water. Storage tanks for collecting rain water has helped some California growers get through times with less rainfall. Rainfall storage tanks could help communities and other businesses too. Bottled water companies need to be charged a business price for units of water taken from community water supplies as it is not standard residential or business use of the community resource. Funding for research and development of energy efficient water purifiers and desalinization units is also a priority as we look into a warmer future with more people needing to eat, drink, and bathe. In the present rehabilitation of aging water infrastructure could provide a few jobs and boost the current economy and help protect the future from following in the footsteps of Rome (the lead lined water pipes may have added to population wide ill health and the collapse of the civilization).
- Nuclear power does not add to greenhouse gases but security of the hazardous waste is important from an environmental and military aspect. Thorium is an alternate fuel for nuclear power that might produce less hazardous waste and less radioactive material capable of being used in a weapon however technical difficulties with the process are still being addressed. The current nuclear power plants and nuclear waste sites already in existence are risks for radiation leaking. Health information from Chernobyl suggests that the risks of radiation poisoning are less of a risk over the long term than originally feared but are a health concern during the acute exposure phase of a nuclear incident. Thyroid cancer is a risk that can be reduced if adequate iodine is available within the body or during the acute phase of the nuclear radiation incident. Being iodine sufficient prior to a nuclear incident provides the most protection to the thyroid from the risks of radioactive iodine collecting in the organ. Ensuring iodine sufficiency for American citizens could help protect them in the unlikely event of a nuclear incident and could also help protect their health on a daily basis from the more common risks of hypothyroidism, obesity, depression, Type II diabetes, , breast and prostate cancer, having a child with autism, and other chronic health issues (iodine is really important throughout the body but is found in more quantity in the thyroid, pancreas, mammary and prostate glands, and other endocrine tissue). Advances in computer technology and environmental sensors should make the design of radiation monitoring equipment easy. The sensors would be placed in areas downwind of nuclear sites and readings would be sent to the internet and to a warning light, buzzer, or human whose job would be to monitor the sensor readings for any increase in radiation levels.
- Agriculture needs to be returned to the small farmer and having patents on seeds needs to be a luxury that is a choice for a few farmers rather than an industry monopoly. Farmers have saved seeds from last year’s harvest to plant for next year’s crop for thousands of years. It is not traditional to patent seeds and require them to be purchased each growing season. Regulations need to protect individual farmers not just corporations who produce agribusiness products. The agribusiness products need to be evaluated for their long term impact on human and ecosystem health. If the business is in the business of producing food then the food ideally should be nourishment for humans and animals rather than being a substance that is adding to chronic illness risks. Soil health also needs to be monitored and protected and sensors are being developed with internet connections capable of sensing nitrogen levels for more precise application of fertilizers (excess fertilizers can cause more acidic wastes to runoff into the ocean). Agriculture industry workers are the ones most at risk for acute illness due to exposure to industrial chemicals. Should our food be raised in an environment that places it’s workers at acute risk of chemical injury? Or could our food be raised in more labor intensive but environmentally safe ways that create jobs? Farm subsidies need to be stopped or shifted to support more labor intensive vegetables and fruits rather than supporting big business commodity crops. A tax code with incentives for hiring more employees instead of supporting capital investments and depreciation of capital expenses could help the small organic farmer. Interplanting a few types of crops together can help reduce harmful weeds and pests without needing as many chemicals but the method is not possible with large scale planting or harvesting equipment. A mixture of large and small agribusinesses is likely needed for a future with an expanded population. Foraging animals can be raised in areas with soil that can’t support crops. Studies into viable diets for a larger population suggest that an omnivore diet with less meat than currently is common would be more sustainable than an all vegetarian diet because of the areas that could support foraging animals but not crops. Research and development of algae crops for human and animal consumption and other alternative protein sources (aka insects and cultured proteins) needs to continue as ocean health and fish industries may be adversely affected by climate change sooner than predicted.
- Global threats that can cross international borders such as pandemic disease and climate change effects need to be met cooperatively by working with other nations, large corporations, and international non-profit organizations. Peace is more likely when a nation has enough food and water for its citizens. Rioting and civil war has occurred after drought conditions affected crops negatively. Pandemic disease is also more likely to occur in a population who is under-nourished and where there is inadequate sanitation facilities (running water and bathrooms). Helping nations improve infrastructure that supports sanitation facilities and agriculture may also be helping prevent pandemics and civil disturbances. Helping developing nations build infrastructure that is efficient and based on renewable energy could help reduce the carbon footprint of the developing nation and help prevent more severe climate change from occurring in the future. We only have one planet, if it goes down, it takes the rest of us with it (and vice versa, there’s many of us and our failures might take the planet down with us and a lot of the rest of the planet’s species too).
- A government’s role in a society is different then that of a business. A business works to maximize its profits for its shareholders and remain in business for the sake of its customers and employees. A government needs to consider profitability, someone needs to pay the bills, but a government also needs to consider safety of the present and future and act as a steward of the land, a caretaker that is maintaining the present and building for future. Regulations for environmental standards and standards for doing business ideally need to be written in clear language with reasonable requirements that could be realistically implemented. Policies that are too stringent or are factually unrealistic need to be identified and rewritten with realistic achievable objectives. Regulations can only help protect us if they are being followed therefore they need to be well designed for effectiveness and efficiency and then jobs need to be funded for adequate numbers of inspectors to enforce the regulations. Realistic, achievable methods should be incorporated into the regulations rather than writing idealistic requirements that may be difficult or impossible for businesses to follow and which may not guarantee that the desired goal will be achieved.
- My administration would support vaccine science by creating a stronger adverse reaction reporting system and funding research into assessing the long term health risks associated with the large number of vaccinations that are being given to American children. Fewer vaccinations given slightly later in life (not during the first six months of life when the infant’s immune system is not well developed) might be safer for children with an underlying susceptibility for autoimmune disease. Forcing all children to get vaccinations against minor illnesses may provide some herd immunity but it may also be causing encephalitis in a few susceptible children. Children with known allergies or autoimmune problems should be allowed to have their parents decline the full schedule of vaccinations. There are more than four times as many shots given to children now than children received in the 1970’s. Vaccinations are important but having good health in the first place is also important. Adequate sanitation and nutrition can help make a population less at risk to catching an infection during an epidemic. Funding for clean water infrastructure can help prevent a variety of diseases, not just the exotic ones. Funding for evaluating the use of calcium chloride as an adjuvant instead of aluminum is a priority to help protect the children with difficulty detoxifying heavy metals and possibly help prevent some children from developing neuro-developmental disorders. Between January and August of 2016 there have been 52 cases of measles reported. In 2015 there was a total of 189 cases of measles reported.  For perspective, not to say causal relationship but just to compare the size of the problems, in 2015 the rate of autism diagnosis was estimated to have reached 1 in 45 children. In 2012 it was 1 in 68, in 2000 it was 1 in 150. [4, 5] The 2015 rate of 1 in 45 children would suggest that roughly 448,919 of the children who were under five years old at the time of the 2010 census may have developed autism by now.  It is sad that 52 people had measles in 2016 so far but I find it more sad that 448, 919 children born between the year 2010 to 1996 may have gone on to develop autism spectrum disorder by now. Based on my reading of medical research the problem is related to deficiency of vitamin D or vitamin D enzymes, and deficiency of iodine, zinc, folate, magnesium, and possibly vitamin B 12 and B 6 and an excess of formaldehyde and other toxins (the herbicide glyphosate is known to inhibit vitamin D enzymes) or heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury or lead. Vaccinations are important but so is having a functioning and well nourished immune system. Excessive numbers of vaccinations may be over-activating the allergic portion of the immune system and leaving more children with allergies and more children and adults with autoimmune disorders.  Vaccinations are important but their use should be limited to the most dangerous diseases and allow children to get sick and recover naturally from milder illnesses such as chickenpox. The natural immunity derived from getting sick and recovering strengthens both the antigen/antibody portion of the immune system which vaccinations work to enhance and the white blood cells which are actually responsible for identifying and killing infected cells using the antigen/antibody system as a identifying label –> the antibody shows the white blood cell which are infected cells that need to be put to death by apoptosis with a little blast of energy from magnesium.
- Space exploration and observation of the Earth from space is a priority for monitoring climate change measurements such as the melting of the glaciers and the healing of the hole in ozone caused by fluorocarbons. Space satellite information can also be helpful for monitoring other social changes and actions of groups of people. Estimates of poverty can be made based on the amount of light being produced by a community during night time hours.  Research and development of natural resources that might be able to be mined on the moon may become more of a priority as we move into a future with dwindling supplies of rare metals available on Earth. building communities on the moon or another planet seems unrealistic at this stage of our technological capabilities.
- There is an opioid problem in this nation in part because there is an ineffective health care problem in this country and a food supply that may not be providing adequate amounts of specialized nutrients such as phospholipids and trace minerals such as magnesium, iodine, and selenium. Fewer people would have chronic pain if the underlying concern was identified and resolved rather than maintaining the patient on painkillers. Opioids don’t even work effectively for diabetic patients unless magnesium is given at the same time and giving the magnesium alone was also found to be an effective pain killer for diabetic patients. Recognizing that addiction can be based in genetic differences rather than ‘the moral failing of a weak-willed individual’ could also help. Adequate treatment for people with addiction problems is often not available because addiction treatment is often focused on making the patient withdraw without the medical support of a prescription that could reduce withdrawal symptoms. Treating people with addictions as someone with moral failings rather than as a person with genetic differences may not help them recover as well as admitting that the problem is physically based and is not just a mental choice. Naloxone given quickly within the time of an opioid overdose can save the patient’s life. Opioid overdoses have become more common because street drugs are being produced and sold as real opioid prescriptions but the strength of the street drug can be more potent and cause death rapidly due to overdoses. Opioids have become a gateway drug for heroin abuse. Heroin can be cheaper and easier for individuals to find on the black market than prescription pills, whether real or fake. Prescribing a dose of naloxone along with an opioid prescription has been suggested by medical doctors.  That wouldn’t help the people who got the too potent fake drug on the black market. Having the antidote drug, naloxone/Narcan, available in emergency vehicles and police stations has also been discussed.  There are genetic differences in the cannabinoid receptor system that are associated with addictions to a variety of substances including opioids and heroin. Changing the Schedule of marijuana from Schedule 1 to 3 or declassifying it altogether as a controlled substance could help reduce opioid deaths and opioid addictions. Early results from states that have approved medical marijuana have shown a reduced use of a variety of medications including prescription painkillers. [11, 12] If someone has a genetic defect that makes them unable to make phospholipids then they would be unable to make cannabinoids and would need an external source and might experience increased cravings for food, alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, or opioids, and possibly cocaine but there is less of association with that substance and genetic differences in the cannanbinoid system then for other commonly abused drugs. Is a genetic difference a sign of ‘moral failing,’ or a sign of a genetic difference and a need for individualized nutrient support? The second answer is my answer.
- The health of the planet’s oceans is already threatened. Increased temperatures and ocean acidity is going to greatly impact fish species which are already threatened by overfishing. Scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are already fished at or beyond sustainable limits according to information provided in the question. Decades from now when the air is even warmer and the ocean is even more acidic we need to have already developed algae and other alternative protein sources because replenishing the numbers of over fished species may not be possible in the hotter more acidic ocean. Reducing our cumulative human carbon footprint would help protect the ocean from temperatures and acidity reaching even more elevated levels. Reducing the amount of acidic fertilizers used on farms and other landscapes would also help reduce the amount of acidic wastes washing off into the ocean or groundwater. Reducing the use of hydraulic fracturing methods could help reduce toxins from leaching into the ground water and reduce the amount of methane being allowed to inadvertently escape into the atmosphere. Regulations regarding which species of fish allowed to be caught and how many are necessary to help support the rebound of the species that have been more depleted. The bleaching of coral reefs is temperature related but acidity is also involved so modifying our use of acidic fertilizers might help reduce their impact on coastal regions of the ocean. Limiting activity in coral reef areas has helped some recover. Oil spills and heavy metals and other toxins and destructive fishing practices are all harmful to coral reefs. The ocean is like our life blood and like our kidneys for detoxifying the planet’s air and water supplies, what is harmful to us can be harmful to it.  Cleaning up the giant floating island of garbage is a priority — humans caused that, we can’t deny that fact, so we should accept our responsibility for cleaning it up.
- The immigration regulations regarding H-1B Visas needs to be modified to reflect more accurate wages. Businesses are able to hire non-citizen university graduates for a $60,000 per year salary when they have a H-1B Visa. Citizens with a similar degree in this decade would expect a far larger starting salary so the H-1B Visa program requirements have not kept up with modern salaries and may be reducing the number of skilled jobs available to U.S. citizens. A minimal change would be to modify the language of the H-1B Visa to reflect standard starting salaries for technological jobs. Restricting immigration and deporting university student immigrants does not help innovation. Immigrant scholars help keep the U.S. at the edge of advances in technology.  A balance needs to be maintained between encouraging academic studies and employment opportunities for both citizens and immigrants.
- My administration would help foster a culture of scientific transparency and accountability in government by encouraging and protecting employees who try to report concerns about questionable research or business practices (protect whistle blowers). Strengthening the adverse drug and vaccination reporting system would also help improve accountability of the FDA and pharmaceutical industries. Devising ways to use blockchain technology in clinical drug trials and other research studies could help make the data on which research is based more transparent, and less able to be modified or dropped from a study if the results didn’t match the desired goal of the company who provided funding for the study. Environmental and other business regulations would be based on best practices of the industry that had previously been found to work, in combination with recommendations from environmental scientists regarding unsafe chemicals or other issues needing limits or environmentally safe techniques.
As pop quizzes go, that was an eight hour brain buster of a pop quiz.
Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.
Ken Tsumiyama, Yumi Miyazaki, Shunichi Shiozawa, Self-Organized Criticality Theory of Autoimmunity, (PLoS ONE 4(12): e8382. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008382, Dec 12, 2009) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0008382
Charlotta Mellander, et. al., Night-Time Light Data: A Good Proxy Measure for Economic Activity?, PLoS One. 2015; 10(10): e0139779. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4619681/
- Pauline Anderson, Naloxone Prescribed With Every Opioid? , (March 7, 2016) Medscape.com, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/859993
- Brad Avery, The Cost of an Overdose, (May 21, 2016, Metrowest Daily News) http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20160521/cost-of-overdose
Xueying Han, Will They Stay or Will They Go? International Graduate Students and Their Decisions to Stay or Leave the U.S. upon Graduation, PLoS One. 2015; 10(3): e0118183. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4356591/