Trumping Science: Trump’s War against Reality

Scientific facts are the most objective and reliable metric for the validity of an idea or theory. As an institution that is held to the highest standards of honesty and reliability, it is the government's duty to inform its policy on science.

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During his campaign season, President Donald Trump claimed that climate change was a Chinese hoax. He demanded “no more massive injections” in an unfounded critique of vaccines. He went as far as to describe reports denying a link between vaccines and autism as “fudged up.” Unsurprisingly, Trump and his administration have changed the role the federal government plays in science, and in the process have altered one of the most important partnerships in the modern world.

One of the evident ways the Trump administration has damaged this relationship is through the implementation of policies that contradict the scientific consensus. For instance, this past June, Trump announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was widely condemned by the scientific community. This pivotal decision will slow the U.S.'s transition toward renewable energy, have diplomatic repercussions that come with abandoning an international agreement, and result in economic costs in the long term.

Indicative of Trump’s indifference toward the opinions of the scientific community, this decision disregarded the overwhelming amount of evidence that humans are a primary cause of climate change and failed to consider the arguments of 800 earth science and energy experts across 46 states who penned an open letter to the president asking that he change his climate policy.

A less publicized but still important example of the Trump administration's disregard of science is Environment Protection Agency (EPA) director Scott Pruitt’s refusal to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos. In doing so, he rejected the EPA’s conclusion that it leaves unsafe levels of residue on crops and has severe neurological effects on developing children.

Refusing to accept scientific fact appears to be a trend in the Trump administration. The president is also known to support the existence of a link between vaccines and autism, saying as recently as three years ago, “I am being proven right about massive vaccinations—the doctors lied.” Such comments misinform and unnecessarily alarm the public, the opposite of what the government-science relationship is intended to do.

Not only has Trump created an environment in which baseless claims wield more power than ones accepted by the scientific community, he has also distanced people from their impact on the environment. According to a series of e-mails with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Trump administration told the USDA to “stop using terms” like “climate change,” “greenhouse gases,” and other phrases that imply human cause, and to instead use terms such as “weather extremes” to communicate with farmers. Such terms take away all sense of human responsibility for today’s environmental issues and promote non-intervention, countering acts to increase awareness of such issues.

Moreover, the Trump administration has been suppressing scientific progress by withholding information regarding meetings behind scientific decisions and minimizing press interaction instead of emphasizing transparency. In fact, the EPA has been sued in order for it to comply with the law and publicly release records of meetings regarding the Clean Water Act, which would impact acres of wetlands in the U.S. and the many endangered species that live on them. It has also removed mentions of Obama’s Climate Action Plan and promises of UN climate reform on federal websites.

In addition to the EPA, the Departments of Energy, Interior, and State have also been sued for censorship in their records. Even more directly, Trump has cut federal funding from major organizations such as NASA and the National Institute of Health. For instance, NASA’s Earth Science budget will drop by 11 percent, losing more than $217 million in funding. Similarly, the EPA will have its lowest budget of the past 40 years, losing 30 percent of all funding. Other programs dedicated to research and disease prevention, such as the National Cancer Institute and the Institute of Health, will lose up to $6 billion in funds.

While those with political power should be making evidence-based claims and supporting scientific progress, Trump’s blatant attempts to stir up hysteria over baseless facts reflect an inappropriate relationship he and his administration currently hold with the country. Ideally, there should be a balance of power between government and science, with continuous support and growth in each of them.

This ideal relationship existed during Obama’s presidency. In Obama’s eight years of presidency, he and his administration proposed new programs for energy and climate change, selected renowned scientists to lead his programs, enforced regulations to preserve the environment, worked with a Republican-dominated Congress to fund new research, and promoted the importance of science in both the present and for future generations.

In contrast, Trump’s administration emphasizes the strained state of the relationship between government and science. As government and science both strive to better the lives of the people, it is imperative that they cooperate rather than compete. Scientific facts are an objective and reliable metric for the validity of an idea or theory. As an institution that is held to the highest standards of honesty and reliability, it is the government's duty to support its scientists, not undermine them.

The government should support scientists working on projects too large for the private sector, such as combating climate change or developing space travel. At the same time, it should make sure science remains ethical through regulations prohibiting practices such as human cloning. Through such cooperation, the government can create an environment that promotes scientific development and creates a more informed public and a brighter future for humanity.