Will ‘anti-science’ Trump harm US research?

The next US president’s scorn for American research bodies and his anti-climate change stance has worried many scientists

November 11, 2016
Trump: Make America Great

Will Donald Trump be the first “anti-science” president of the United States, as some have claimed?

He has shown almost no interest in science during his election campaign, but his few utterances in this area have sent chills through the world-leading US research community.

When conservative talk-show host Michael Savage volunteered in an interview with the now president-elect to take over the National Institutes of Health, which spends about $32 billion (£25.5 billion) a year on research, Mr Trump said that it would be a good idea.

“You would get common sense if that were the case…because I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible,” explained Mr Trump of perhaps the most admired science organisation in the world.

His determination to tear up the Paris agreement on climate change, branded a Chinese “hoax” designed to kill US manufacturing, has also been cited as evidence of his anti-science outlook.

While his campaign was “bereft of specific policies” on science, Mr Trump’s comments suggest that “he will most likely not move forward on policies set to reduce CO2 emissions”, said Joshua A. Drew, director of the conservation biology programme at Columbia University.

“I would anticipate smaller roles for federal agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” added Dr Drew, who has described the new Republican administration as “demonstrably anti-science, anti-climate and, by extension, anti-ocean”.

Zen Faulkes, a Canadian evolutionary biology professor at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, said that scientists were right to be fearful about the new president.

“Trump has said that he wants to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency – that alone would represent a horrible blow to US science,” said Professor Faulkes, who noted that the organisation published more than 500 journal articles each year and hired more than 300 postdoctoral researchers.

But he was more worried about the Republican control of Congress, said Professor Faulkes.

“The traditional Republican national leadership has a history of disparaging science,” he said.

“I haven’t forgotten that not so long ago, an American congressman said evolutionary biology was ‘lies straight from the pit of hell’,” he said, referring to comments made in 2012 by Georgia representative Paul Broun.

But some academics are more optimistic.

“Science is supported by both parties in Congress, and Mr Trump has no science priorities,” said Charles Akemann, professor of mathematics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

With the exception of climate change, Professor Akemann said, he believed that “there will be no changes in science policy or support of science”, although he thought that Mr Trump might well use his executive orders and appointments to “make clear that he is not worried about global warming”.

Cutting spending to science and higher education in general would not be a priority for Mr Trump, added Stephen H. Balch, director of the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization at Texas Tech University.

“Trump isn’t a ‘budget hawk’ – I wouldn’t expect severe cuts in student funding,” he said.

He also expressed hope that a Trump administration would address the “unremitting ideological hostility of most of academe’s opinion leadership”.

“Fostering more intellectual diversity within American universities should be a high priority – I hope it will take that challenge seriously,” he said.



Print headline: Research climate change feared

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