Candidates' science report cards misleading if you only read the headline or summary. Like most science stories.
Scientific American's "Grading the Presidential Candidates on Science" article is not without value, but it has some eccentricities that make it seriously misleading to just read the candidates' scores without reading the whole thing to see what the questions actually were, and how they were graded. It does not test candidates' scientific literacy or mastery. And even the breadth, detail and seriousness of their science-related public policies takes a back seat to some oddball factors that don't matter that much to anyone but the authors:
- The test puts surprisingly great emphasis not on scientific literacy or policies, but on following instructions in detail when taking the test. They asked for very specific policies on specific questions, not overall generalities. Even though describing overall general policy preferences and methods can be useful and instructive, and is often the best use of candidates' and the public's time in a campaign. Gary Johnson came off more like he answered it on the fly without reading the instructions, and so didn't get credit for a lot of detailed, solid, moderate policies on energy and other science-related issues that are described on his web site or on an independent "candidates on the issues" site.
- Though the graders didn't look outside the test answers for material that bolstered a candidate's scientific literacy, they did so to find positions and statements that would lower a candidate's grade or would, in their view, contradict their answers to the test. That hurt all candidates but Hillary.
- A significant fraction of the test was government-funding issues, which it treated as showing whether a candidate would be good for science, ignoring any economic arguments about whether that's the best way to do things. (Or penalizing all market-based arguments, relying on a single study, far outside the graders' expertise, that they treated as authoritative on all economic questions.)
- The graders also got extremely, unscientifically doctrinaire on a couple issues: Stein was deemed an ignoramus for having misgivings about nuclear power, whereas apparently there's a total scientific consensus that nuclear is hunky-dory. Who knew? And although Johnson says global warming's a man-made program that needs governmental solutions, he's severely penalized for saying we should be open-minded to various dissenters and that some widely proposed solutions aren't necessarily worth the cost.