Scientists in the U.S. and from around the world are weighing in on Donald Trump’s election as the next president of the most powerful country on earth:
Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had . . . The consequences are going to be very, very severe.
I am simply stunned. . . Trump’s election does not bode well for science or most anything else of value.
Neal Lane, a Democrat who led the National Science Foundation and served as White House science adviser under President Bill Clinton, now a physicist and university professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas:
It’s going to be critically important for researchers to stand up for science.
Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative Relations at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland:
I do breast cancer research for my PhD . . . Scared not only for my future but for the future of research and next years @NIH budget.
Sarah Hengel, a graduate student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City:
This is terrifying for science, research, education, and the future of our planet . . . I guess it’s time for me to go back to Europe.
María Escudero Escribano, a postdoc studying electrochemistry and sustainable energy at Stanford University in California:
It’s going to badly tarnish the image of the United States . . . Roughly half of the population has voted for somebody who by almost any measure is unfit to serve as president.
David Victor, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego:
The Paris Agreement without the US would live on, but the spirit and the international focus on one of the defining challenges of our time could get lost. And the economic opportunities for the US will get lost too . . . Not a good outcome for the US in that respect. Not a good outcome for the climate. Too early to tell how bad it will be, though. One can hear the world gasping for air.
Malte Meinhausen, senior researcher in climate impacts at the University of Melbourne and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:
The result of the US presidential election is very worrisome on many counts, including of course for climate negotiations. . . . The outcome of this election is clearly not the end of the world but the consequences for humanity are potentially dreadful.
Prof Jean-Pierre Gattuso, professor of biological oceanography at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Sorbonne University and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations:
To quote James Hansen, I fear this may be game over for the climate.
Michael. E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University
Even the Chinese feel sorry for us:
I feel sad for the United States and its scientists, and would like to welcome good scientists to work and live in China.
Yi Rao, a neuroscientist at Peking University.
Trump’s science-free campaign
According to Science, there has been almost no interaction between the scientific community and the Trump campaign over the past 18 months and the campaign didn’t do any outreach to the scientific establishment. Scientists say that one of Trump’s most important appointments will be the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Dr. Neal Lane said that this person will be influential in filling other science-related positions in government, such as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (if it survives), the Department of Energy, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. All of these require Senate confirmation. (The National Science Foundation head, France Cordova, has a six-year term, which does not expire until 2020.)
Robert Cook-Deegan, a research professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, is pessimistic about what the appointment to OSTP might (or might not) mean:
For Trump, I’m not sure [the appointment] would matter, because there won’t be any ‘policy’ apparatus, but only traffic cops and damage control fire brigades. Science won’t get much attention, except when it gets in the way or bolsters support for a political priority.
STAT reports that former presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, who also wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, has called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and disputed the theory of evolution, is a top candidate for head of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration. Also in the running is Newt Gingrich, who is not a scientist at all, and who is reportedly being considered for Secretary of State as well. Politico confirms that Dr. Carson is a favored candidate to head HHS.
Dr. Cook-Deegan’s and his fellow scientists’ concerns are well-founded. How has President-elect Trump demonstrated his ignorance of science in general and his denigration of medical science in particular? Let us count the ways.
Both David Gorski and our good friend Orac have done a masterful job of keeping up with Trump’s anti-vaccination rhetoric over the years, his belief in the “too many, too soon” gambit, his promotion of the non-existent connection between vaccination and autism, and the adulation of anti-vaccination cranks bestowed on Trump. Despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, Trump has said he has a “theory” that
a little baby that weighs 20 pounds and 30 pounds gets pumped with 10 and 20 shots at one time, with one injection that’s a giant injection, I personally think that has something to do with it
The “it” being autism. (The “10 and 20 shots at one time” is a perfect example of how Trump simply fabricates the data to suit his whims.) He has said (or, more likely, the staffer who filled out a questionnaire, said) that “we should educate the public on the values of a comprehensive vaccination program,” but, given his consistent anti-vaccination rhetoric and poor understanding of immunization science, what a Trump “comprehensive vaccination program” would look like is anyone’s guess.
Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and a “money-making industry,” although he does believe “there’s weather.” He has used scare quotes around the term “climate change.” He has said he would dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, and “cancel” the Paris Agreement on climate change, a move that drew an open rebuke from several hundred top scientists. He vowed to repeal key EPA regulations, including those on ozone pollution, the Clean Power Plan, and part of the Renewable Fuel Standard Program. He has said “perhaps” we should invest in alternatives to fossil fuels and access to clean water. But he hates wind turbines and greatly overestimated their effect on birds. He said that “Science will inform our decisions on what regulations to keep, rescind or add,” but contradicts himself in the very next sentence by claiming that the “free market system will regulate the private sector.” In a 2012 tweet, Trump claimed, falsely, that energy-saving light bulbs cause cancer.
According to Environment & Energy Daily, Trump has selected climate change skeptic Myron Ebell to head his transition plans for the EPA and, such is his devotion to ridding government of political insiders, Koch Brothers lobbyist Mike McKenna to head the Department of Energy transition team.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Trump does not have a position on funding for Zika or on public health preparedness. In 2014, he tweeted that the U.S. should immediately stop all flights from Ebola-infected countries “or the plague will start and spread” in this country. In fact, medical experts said that suspending flights would hamper relief efforts and make controlling and monitoring the flow of people to and from infected regions more difficult.
Trump’s promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act would leave approximately 22 million Americans without health insurance. The ACA requires health insurers to cover many preventive services (such as vaccinations) without copays. Whether Trump’s health plan would require preventive services at all, and, if so, under what conditions, is unknown.
He supports health savings accounts, which, unlike traditional health insurance, have no controls over their use for unproven diagnoses and treatments. Previous HSA bills introduced in Congress by Sen. Orrin Hatch, and supported by Sen. Marco Rubio, have been larded with corporate welfare for the dietary supplement industry.
Trump opposes abortion except to save the life of the woman or in the cases of rape or incest; supports laws that would limit access to later term abortions; would defund Planned Parenthood and make the Hyde Amendment permanent law. Although he walked back his position that women who have abortions should be punished, he has not changed his view that physicians who perform abortions should be punished. He has said he will appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. He claimed that American women are getting abortions days before birth, a claim refuted by OB/GYNs.
Bogus health products
Trump started The Trump Network in 2009, a multi-level marketing scheme to sell nutritional supplements and weight-loss products. He promoted the scheme to those affected by the economic meltdown as “an opportunity for you to make as much money as you want.” Key to success, however, was not so much in selling his dubious products, but in recruiting other sellers and earning commissions. Trump’s “health” products included a multi-vitamin supposedly customized to the consumer’s needs based on an unvalidated mail-in urine test. There was also a weight-loss program developed by a naturopath but exposed by a real registered dietician as expensive and unhealthy. Trump sold The Trump Network in 2012.
Scientific American reports that, while Trump has offered few details on biomedical research policies, he said last year that he heard “terrible” things about the NIH. He has no clear position on stem-cell research, although Mike Pence, the Vice President-elect thinks embryonic stem cell research is “unconscionable” and “offensive” and has claimed, incorrectly, that the usefulness of embryonic stem cell research is “obsolete.” Pence, of course, famously denied a causal connection between smoking and cancer.
Trump’s immigration policies, including a proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and plans to build a wall along the Mexican border, has researchers concerned that foreign scientists could be dissuaded from working or studying here. Kevin Wilson, director of public policy and media relations at the American Society for Cell Biology, said that “at the very least it would put a chilling effect on the interest of scientists from other countries coming here.”
It is indeed unfortunate that we will have scientific illiterates as our president and vice-president for four years. Whatever actually happens during his term, it remains incontestable that Donald Trump’s abysmal record of ignoring and disparaging science, scientific evidence and scientific institutions was there for all to see, and people voted for him anyway. It is especially discouraging that some medical doctors supported a candidate for president who so clearly disparages medical science and proven public health measures. Some measure of his regard for physicians can be gleaned from the “patently ludicrous” letter written by his oddball gastroenterologist declaring him the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” a declaration met with widespread ridicule. Medicine is just part of the con for Trump.
Andrew Rosenberg, of the Union of Concerned Scientists and former senior official at NOAA, says that, after this election:
[s]cientists need to stand up and be heard . . . They can’t just hunker down in their labs and say that they won’t get involved because the election didn’t go the way they wanted it to.
He’s right, and it’s not just scientists who need to “stand up and be heard” when Trump, Pence and their anti-science allies trash science. We all do. The defense of science and science-based medicine are more important than ever. We’ll be watching.