Oct. 6, 2000 -- In the latest issue of Science magazine, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore get their chance to sound off on a variety of science-policy issues. But with a few exceptions, the candidates do not markedly diverge from each other, with both vowing to increase funding for biomedical research, protect the confidentiality of genetic information, and support the safe development and export of genetically engineered crops.
Their responses do reflect the differences in broad ideological outlook that distinguish the candidates, with Gore favoring an activist government and Bush generally preferring a more moderate role for Washington, says David Hart, Ph.D., an associate professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, who reviewed the article for WebMD.
Since the 1988 election, the editorial staff of Science has invited presidential candidates to respond to a series of questions on science-related policy.
In the current article, which appears in the Oct. 13 edition, both Bush and Gore say they support more funding for biomedical research. Bush says he would double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget, while Gore proposes "increasing biomedical research by $18 billion over 10 years."
Both also vow to oppose health insurance discrimination on the basis of genetic information. Bush says he has worked with Texas legislators to achieve legal protections against genetic discrimination. "In 1997, I supported and signed a model genetic privacy law that makes it illegal for insurers and employers to make decisions based on genetic test results," he says.
While vowing to oppose the use of individual genetic information for discriminatory purposes, Gore says that raw data from gene-decoding projects "should be made freely available to scientists around the world for use in developing the next generation of medical diagnostic products, treatments, and cures."
Both Bush and Gore also express support for the use of genetically engineered crops, although Bush primarily addresses this as a free-trade issue. "I will fight to ensure that U.S. products are allowed entry into the European Union and that accepted scientific principles are applied in enacting regulations," Bush says.
Gore more directly expresses support for genetic engineering, saying that it "holds enormous promise to help increase crop yields, produce more nutritious foods and improve environmental quality." He adds: "We need to maintain our science-based regulatory approach to capture the benefits and minimize the risks. We need to remember that modern agriculture is not a risk-free endeavor."
In the most strongly worded response, Bush takes the Clinton administration to task for its stewardship of federal research laboratories. "The tenure of the current administration has not been good for our national laboratories," Bush says. "Inadequate leadership, oversight, and management by the Department of Energy have left a dark cloud over our national labs."
The principal difference between the two candidates is their view of government's role in fostering cooperation and partnership with private industry, Hart says.
"I think Bush believes that industry can be left alone, and that government's role is in funding traditional institutions and laboratories," Hart tells WebMD. "Gore sees a more creative role for government in fostering collaboration between government and industry."
Noticeably missing from the candidates' remarks, Hart said, is any mention of stem cell research. Stem cells are cultured human cells, taken from embryos, that have the potential to develop into almost any of the body's different tissues, such as bone, heart, or brain tissue. While the pharmaceutical and biomedical research establishment favors federal funding for this type of research, it is opposed by some right-to-life groups and may prove a sticky issue for Bush, Hart says.
In only one area, also only somewhat relevant to health and medicine, did the two candidates markedly appear to differ: the validity of "global warming" and its relationship to human economic activity. Some scientists believe an increase in so-called greenhouse gases is trapping more of the sun's heat in the atmosphere, causing a warming of the surface of the earth and leading to climate changes.
"There can no longer be serious doubts that human economic activity is affecting the global environment," Gore says. "While uncertainties remain, the serious debate has shifted to an examination of the speed and magnitude of climate change and what we might do to affect its course."
But Bush suggests that the jury is still out on the subject. "Scientific data show that average temperatures have increased slightly during this century, but the causes and the impact of this slight warming are uncertain," he says. "Changes in Earth's atmosphere are serious and require much more extensive scientific analysis."