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Science in the Age of Trump

Science in the Age of Trump
Allie Sullberg/Staff Illustrator

Jack Alegre
Staff Writer

With the appointment of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State and rumors of vaccine-skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. being courted for a special vaccine committee, Donald Trump’s cabinet is shaping up to be the most anti-science yet. The alarming nature of his and his cabinet member’s views regarding science could impact the United States at all levels because they rely on the gross reinterpretation of scientific fact in a way that serves only their own special interests.

Perhaps anti-science is not the correct word; rather, Trump’s administration is against science that they do not want to believe in. For UCSB professor David Cleveland, a researcher with the environmental science department, these are warning signs.

“The new administration is a bad harbinger for science,” he said. “They seem addicted to making statements about the world based on what they would like it to be, or alternate facts.”

For Trump and his administration, anything that is an inconvenience to them is something that can and will be derided as an “alternative fact.” Such “alternate facts” can range from the idea that vaccine risks outweigh their benefits—a belief held by both Trump and Kennedy—as well as the idea that environmental regulations are useless because climate change is a Chinese invention.

Of course, all of Trump’s bluster could be ignored if not were it not for the powerful ears he has the attention of. This brings us to Trump’s presidential cabinet, and the ominous specter of science being sacrificed for the pursuit of profit.

Secretary of State nominee Tillerson is the CEO of Exxon Mobil. Scott Pruitt, the selection to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, is the former Attorney General of Oklahoma. Rick Perry was picked to lead the United States’ Department of Energy, an institution he previously wanted dismantled. Until this January, he was assuming the department to be related to energy production rather than the safeguarding of our nation’s nuclear arsenal. Needless to say, none of the people poised to lead the government’s science programs have any scientific backgrounds.

Instead of offering us scientists, Trump puts in charge businessmen and politicians without the objectivity of a researcher. They have something to gain by getting rid of the environmental regulations. Cleveland was alarmed, stating that their reverence of “materialism, selfishness, dominance, and zero-sum-game competition…[are] the opposite of what science tells us makes people happy.”

In the pursuit of profit, not even new technology that will be developed. Much like Trump has shown that he picks the science that reinforces his beliefs, he rejects advancing science in favor of concentrating on areas that are already developed. For example, take his relation with the fossil fuel industry in America. Instead of focusing on global warming, which is a potentially cataclysmic issue according to scientists worldwide, Trump promises a return to natural resource extraction.

In addition, his isolationist rhetoric causes him to disregard foreign oil and turn his attention towards the United States’ own supply. Rather than recognizing the value of conserving the oil reserves or weaning the United States off of fossil fuels entirely, he is urging companies to amp up the extraction of natural resources. Trump isn’t focusing on generating new technical jobs; he’s content to allow archaic and damaging industries to continue.

As scientific advancement is closely tied with social welfare, Trump’s anti-science stance will also negatively impact the health of society. Trump shares the ludicrous fear that vaccinations will make your children autistic. The scientific community and its trusted institutions, such as the Center for Disease Control, have stated time and time again there is no causal link between vaccines and autism. Nevertheless, Trump continues to alarm public health officials, as shown by the recent appointment of anti-vaccination Kennedy.

As recently as three months ago, all of Trump’s tweets and grandstands could be discounted as easily as his idea of “alternate facts.” Now that he is leader of the nation, there is urgency to his words like never before. Tweets can now become policy. Now the only environment that Trump is concerned about protecting is one that reinforces his own world views.

Nevertheless, Cleveland remained adamant of the role that science could and should play in the coming years.

“It is more important than ever that scientists not only strive to produce the most objective analyses of our situation,” Cleveland said, “but that we also participate in the public discussion of how these data can be used to promote a more equitable, happy society.”

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