Resisting Anti-Science Stances
of the New Administration
U.S. Presidents have had a history of enthusiastic and constructive engagement with science and technology. Notable among them have been Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama. In fact, the growth and health of the U.S. economy post-World War II was the product, in large part, of the far-sighted and generous public investments made through the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Energy, in computer science, materials science, telecommunications, biomedical research, environmental and geophysical programs, and many other disciplines.
President-elect Trump has nominated as a leading member of his cabinet an individual who dismisses the scientific evidence for human-induced climate changes, probably the gravest challenge of our times. Indeed, the President-elect’s staff has threatened to tear up the Paris climate accords. Many other of Trump’s statements cast aspersions on the activities of our scientific and technological communities, giving warning of additional difficulties ahead.
In response, members and organizations of our scientific, computational, engineering, and architectural communities need to step up to the plate and protect and foster the advances in environmental understanding that have been achieved. MIT faculty occupying executive positions in their professional societies should promote public statements by their societies in support of public policies informed by scientific evidence.
This is a crucial responsibility of our scientific community. We are called upon to proactively refute the promotion of half-truths and unfounded positions irrespective of any prudent inclinations to avoid rocking the boat with federal funding agencies.
Political developments in the post-World War II decade made the scientific community almost totally dependent on support from federal funding agencies. Given that almost all of these agencies reside in the executive branch of the government, there will be many among our peers that depend on that funding who may be loathe to publicly challenge the policies of the President-elect or his appointees. In such a situation, letter writing and petition campaigns that proceed outside organizational boundaries may also be needed to protect our scientific integrity.
We note that cabinet nominations require Senate confirmation. This means that the scientific community can work with the Senate to oppose the nominations of doubters and deniers of human-induced environmental damages. This can be done at many levels, including professional societies, private communications, and political channels.
Patrick Henry Winston