President-elect Donald Trump has pulled a page out of the McCarthy era. His transition team wants to know which scientists in the Department of Energy did their jobs. That is, which employees went to climate science conventions as required to by the Obama Administration.
Every one of Mr. Trump’s nominees to head an agency is a climate denier, as is the President-elect himself. The Republican war on science has now hit a crescendo. Climate change, which has been proven over-and-over-again, is characterized as “politicized science” by the President-elect’s non-scientific and politicized staff.
Truth be told, as a scientist, I never heard of “politicized science”. It has always been either good science or bad science. Can one prove a hypothesis by experimentation or observation, and if so can these be replicated?
When the imminent physicist Sir Isaac Newton published his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in 1687, laying down the basis for the laws of motion and gravitation, which both dominated scientists’ view of the universe for the subsequent three centuries, and govern how buildings are built, no one called his work “politicized science”. Indeed, I would venture to bet that none of Mr. Trump’s advisors would credibly challenge Newton’s theories and findings. Even Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly told us that he knows more than anyone else, would likely agree that the forces of gravity, which support his buildings and the signs advertising his name, are real and not “politicized”. Newton was not a politician and neither are today’s governmental and non-governmental scientists.
Nevertheless, Mr. Trump is set to abolish all of NASA’s earth research – much of which seeks to expand Newton’s theories – because he believes that that research is only related to climate change, which his senior advisors term “politicized science”. We don’t know enough about the planet that we live on, and Mr. Trump seeks to abandon the search for earth knowledge because he wants to explore space. But, the final frontier is right here at home.
The Republican war on science has had an eight-year hiatus with the election of President Obama’s administration. For example, in a 2007 review in the Cato Institute’s Regulation journal, of Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science”, Jonathan Adler, a conservative law professor, expressed his difficulty in explaining an incident in which George Deutsch, a political appointee of the George W. Bush administration, who had no college degree or any knowledge of science went to NASA’s Office of Public Affairs and thinking that it would be a good idea to edit the agency’s website in order to protect “religious sensibilities”. Deutsch noted in a memo that the Big Bang was just a “theory” because, in his view, “it is opinion.” He continued: “It is not nasa’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator”. Concomitantly, Deutsch limited NASA’s scientists’ contact with the press, including renowned climatologist James Hansen, who, it seems, might offer opinions at odds with administration policy on issues like global warming.
Eventually, Mr. Deutsch resigned. However, the Deutsch affair was not an isolated instance during Mr. Bush’s tenure. Rather, as Mr. Mooney observes, it was only one episode of “political science abuse” to emerge over President Bush’s term in office — abuse that presents a “palpably real” threat to the republic. And, here we are again. Get ready for the “crucifixion” of science – not the one that is related to drilling for oil or fracking: No that is “good science”, but the science of climate change, which per the Republican establishment and Mr. Trump’s political minions is “bad science”. Ergo, a new episode of “political science abuse” or, as Mooney defines it, “any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter, or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons.”
But, Mr. Trump’s war on science will hit a wall. As I write this piece, he is meeting with the giants of the tech world. They will tell him that the United States does not have a work-force that is schooled in science, nor has the skills to work in tech, because as a country we have not focused on STEM, a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Indeed, according to a February 10, 2016 report issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD, of which the United States is a founding member, U.S. students rank 50th out of 60 developed countries in math and science. Recall that since 1980 Republicans have held the presidency for twenty years out of thirty-six. Moreover, Republican controlled congress’ have been very stingy in their budget priorities when it comes to schooling. Moreover, their focus has been on shutting down the Department of Education rather than on quality education. What is more, the “Red” states always underperform the “Blue” states.
Today, the U.S. is at a cross roads. It has arrived at a moment of truth. Will you let the Trumpites destroy our planet and science or do we all band together to fight those who know everything, but know nothing?