What Does A Trump Presidency Mean For Science In America?
To answer this question up-front: Nothing good.
Also, we’re all screwed. Might as well put that out there first as well.
There have already been reactions across the scientific spectrum from a variety of fields and very few of them are optimistic about the next four years. In fact, the only “scientific” groups that have already seen a positive outcome are pharmaceutical companies and health care insurance companies at the prospect of the Affordable Care Act being overturned and there no longer being a likelihood of price caps being put on ridiculously expensive medicine sales, such as with Epipens and the prior work of one Martin Shkreli.
The stocks for those two industries jumped after the election results, while stocks involving actual health care companies such as those supporting hospitals and child medical services saw a significant dip in stock prices as investors ran to more stable options.
But enough about stocks, let’s talk about science itself.
Funding and Just Existing
C&EN, the official magazine for the American Chemical Society, released an article yesterday covering their concerns about the future of chemical science funding in America. Cuts in federal spending on grants and losing federal support for scientific endeavors are almost guaranteed to occur under a Trump presidency. The GOP have already been pushing such cuts for several decades, but with control over both houses of Congress and the Presidency, there will likely be more than usual for the next four years.
The activities of the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department, and the National Institutes of Health will be heavily curtailed and their budgets cut. Trump has also called for the elimination of the EPA, which could have negative reverberations throughout multiple scientific fields and environmental organizations. Of course, his nomination of climate change denialist Myron Ebell to the position will likely have similar effects.
In regards to chemical regulations themselves, Trump hasn’t specified much other than one specific point. He has stated his strong support for the “benefits” of asbestos and will likely oppose ongoing efforts to remove this dangerous inhalatory carcinogen.
Let me repeat that: the benefits of asbestos.
The Best Quotes
An article in the journal Nature discussed the matter with a range of scientists. The director of public affairs for the American Physical Society, Michael Lubell, commented, “Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had. The consequences are going to be very, very severe.”
Kevin Wilson, the director of public policy for the American Society for Cell Biology concurred with the statement, “I think at the very least it would put a chilling effect on the interest of scientists from other countries in coming here.”
Multiple scientists, such as Murray Rudd, that have come to America as a research co-operative or for study have been contemplating returning to their home countries, which are likely to be more amiable toward their future research.
An area where it’s quite uncertain what a Trump presidency will hold for it is space exploration, as Trump has stated his support for commercial enterprises in space, but has also lampooned NASA as a “logistics agency for low-Earth orbit activity“ and will probably continue Republican efforts to defund the agency year after year.
Space.com discussed the likelihood of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) being defunded in the next few years, along with the late 2020’s Mars mission, which needs to begin work and funding now if it’s going to be ready on time. While NASA is currently under contract with multiple international space agencies, a Trump Presidency could still find ways to stifle that co-operation and minimize any actual scientific endeavors over the next few years in regards to manned spaceflight.
Now onto the big topic, that one that’s especially concerning. Climate change. How fucked are we exactly? The answer: somewhere between mostly and completely.
The prior mentioned Nature article pointed out that while President Obama has successfully managed to sign the US onto the Paris accords, the actual details of them are still being hashed out in Morocco. While Trump really won’t be able to pull the US out of the accords over the next four years like he claimed he would, he could certainly do quite a lot to interfere with the greenhouse gas emission goals set by them, along with dramatically tarnishing America’s image on the world stage in the process.
The climate change news site Carbon Brief also went over the history of Trump’s stances on climate change and proposals for actions he would undertake as President. This includes his statement that the whole idea of climate change is a “hoax” that was fabricated by the Chinese government to impact our energy infrastructure. He has also pledged to completely end any federal spending covering the development of low-carbon energy systems.
Dr. Twila Moon from the University of Bristol summed it up best with this comment, “Having a person in the position of US President who does not acknowledge scientific facts establishing the clear reality of human-caused climate change is a disgrace. This is a sad and scary outcome for science and for action on halting harmful climate change.”
For actual action on climate change, we might end up having to rely on China after all, as the nation has managed to top the global charts on spending for renewables and nuclear power options for multiple years in a row.
And A Very Merry Un-Independence Day To You
For all the fields of study that I haven’t covered, the story is much the same. At minimum, they will lose a significant amount of people involved in scientific research and budgets, grants, and funding in general will fall precipitously. Just hope that you’re not in one of the fields listed above or potentially others where Trump has specific ridiculous ideas about how reality works. I mean, did you read the asbestos thing?
Heck, I even forgot to mention that Trump has been very specifically holding up the claim for years that vaccines cause autism. Christ, we are all so fucked.