Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton need to debate crucial health, science and technology issues

Pollution from coal-fired power plants is among the science-related topics that deserve discussion by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during their presidential debates.
Pollution from coal-fired power plants is among the science-related topics that deserve discussion by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during their presidential debates. The Associated Press

Permit us to interrupt the presidential candidates’ Twitter blasts with a serious request:

Please devote some time at tonight’s presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis and in the final debate on Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas to health, science, technology and related matters.

Debates should explore new topics, not just rehash the attacks and talking points heard in every interview and stump speech.

We know these are challenging topics, hard even. Yet their effects are far-reaching in American’s daily lives. That’s precisely why Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton should explain where they stand and — frankly — demonstrate that they understand the issues.

Debate moderators shouldn’t have a hard time coming up with questions, but if they do, there’s a convenient list at ScienceDebate.org. Dozens of scientific organizations and universities — from the Academy of Natural Sciences to the World Wildlife Foundation — have endorsed it.

“Taken collectively, these 20 issues have as profound an impact on voters’ lives as the economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values views candidates often share,” said ScienceDe-bate.org chairman Shawn Otto, organizer of the effort and author of “The War on Science.”

Clinton and Trump as well as Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein have supplied written answers to the questions. But staff-vetted prose is no match for answers out of a candidate’s own mouth on the spot.

Consider internet security, for example. Our economy, banking systems, weapons systems, private businesses and public institutions all depend on it. How will the candidates defend these systems to protect our economy and private lives? How willing are they to compromise data security and privacy so that law enforcement and spy agencies can monitor communications?

Likewise, how do the candidates propose the nation respond to climate change? Clinton at least has offered firm answers — “Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time” — and serious policy proposals.

Trump still uses scare quotes around “climate change” — as if it were an undecided matter — and hedges whenever the environment comes up. Trump’s vagueness and Clinton’s specifics make for dramatic contrasts. Let’s hear it live, head to head.

Nuclear power should be another topic on the table. Is the relatively clean energy compelling enough to proceed, or are waste disposal issues, security and risks of nuclear power plant accidents too daunting?

Medicine deserves some frank appraisals from both candidates. How will they provide leadership to handle disease outbreaks like Zika and help those suffering from mental illness or opiate addiction? Diseases kill far more people than terrorists do.

Research into scientific areas deserves more federal funding. Who will make sure NASA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies have adequate resources to keep America at the forefront of innovation?

In their written answers to the ScienceDebate.org questions, differences between the leading candidates are clear. Trump questions federal oversight and regulation; Clinton hopes to coordinate local, state and federal responses to threatened waters, lands and species.

In a world in which the economy and freedom rely on science and technology, the nation cannot afford to let the candidates avoid these important conversations.

Clinton and Trump, age 68 and 70 respectively, came of age before personal computers, smartphones and genetic engineering — heck before microwave ovens were common in homes. They need to be prepared and briefed on Instagram, Snapchat, encryption and self-driving cars.

Do they understand why space exploration is important? Have they experienced the sharing economy of Uber and Airbnb? To whom will they turn for advice on critical science matters?

For young voters, undecided voters and the world at large, science and technology matter far more than past marital infidelities in both families, more than missing tax returns and email abuse. The fact that both candidates Tweet doesn’t prove they are savvy.