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January 29, 2017 / jpschimel

The Trump Reaction

Back when Reagan was president; scientists I knew at the EPA said it was a great time to be a researcher there. Reagan didn’t want to move on environmental protections (after all he did say “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do”) so his approach was to shelve action in favor of research—we don’t know enough about the problem so let’s study it some more.

When George W. Bush became President, it was clear that he didn’t want to act on environmental protections and felt no obligation to mask that with any claims for needing deeper study. He was happy to just ignore environmental issues. That upset many environmental scientists and contributed to my applying to the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program (The ALLP). I felt that if the leaders won’t lead, the followers better. I haven’t become an environmental leader, but doing the ALLP program not only focused my communication skills but motivated me to action in an area where I thought I had something to offer. I started teaching science writing—how to communicate clearly and powerfully. The book “Writing Science” and this blog grew from that.

But now we have a president whose attitude goes way beyond mere neglect to outright harassment and destruction of the agencies and structures the United States uses to maintain our environment and to facilitate growing our understanding of it. He’s against any environmental agenda and is doing what he can to undermine environmental research, the Environmental Protection Agency, and federal scientists throughout a broad array of U.S. agencies. In fact the entire scientific infrastructure of the U.S. is threatened.

We must stand up and fight for the value and power of knowledge. We will have to be more directly aggressive in politics than many of us have felt comfortable with in the past. I don’t see the core changing—the fight to ensure that science is used accurately in decision making and that the best available information is brought to the policy table. That’s still the base of the battle. But where we’ve often felt that it was our data that were being targeted, now it is us. The president seems to want to destroy our fundamental approach to interacting with, and understanding, the world around us. He’d like to get us out of the way to enable fable to rule. That isn’t just trying to return to the 1950’s when coal and assembly lines were king, that’s returning to the Middle Ages.

We must mobilize to limit the damage and protect the institutions whose mission it is to create and promulgate new knowledge. We must expand our efforts with the public to gain support for science and scholarship and we must work with our elected representatives at local, State, and National levels to hold them accountable for their actions and make it clear that the health of the United States depends on the functioning of a healthy and productive system of research and scholarship.

This goes beyond just those of us in the natural sciences to our colleagues and friends in the social sciences and humanities—the existence of the National Endowments of Arts and Humanities have been threatened. Only by fighting for the value of fundamental scholarship, carried out in an open and interactive manner, can we help advance the infrastructure of knowledge and prepare for a new Renaissance when this reactionary dark age passes, which it will.



Leave a Comment
  1. Meredith Warshaw / Jan 29 2017 11:33 am

    Well said!

  2. 4gravitonsandagradstudent / Feb 1 2017 8:09 am

    I’ve heard some claims that the gag order and grant review are standard practice for an incoming administration. Setting aside the question of whether Trump is likely to go further, is that part true? Do incoming presidents normally ban the EPA from talking to the public for a time after they take office?

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