Watching the State of the Union last night made me think of my favorite State of the Union moment. In 2015, President Obama took the stage and roasted climate deniers in Congress, stating “I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists. Well I'm not a scientist either but you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and NOAA and at our major universities and the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate.”
What a stark difference a few years make.
Last night was a resounding reaffirmation that we no longer have a leader who listens to the voices of scientists. American scientists and their work have been undermined since day one by the Trump Administration, with the enthusiastic support of a Congress led by GOP representatives as hostile to evidence-based policy making as the President. Of course these attacks didn’t begin with the Trump Administration, but the scope of damage done in just one year makes it clear to me that we need more scientists in Congress, and why the work electing scientists to public office that we’re doing at 314 Action is more important than ever.
Although Americans generally don’t like much pageantry in their politics, the State of the Union Address is an exception. Regardless of which party you support, you can’t help but feel proud when the Clerk of the House shouts his introduction and legislators scramble to get in the TV shot as the President makes his way down the aisle. We like seeing the Supreme Court Justices and the President’s cabinet walk in to the House chamber followed by the President, who always announces that the state of our union is strong to great applause.
The anti-science caucus—almost entirely devoid of any scientific training or expertise—did most of the applauding last night. For scientists, however there’s been little, if anything to cheer.
Look no further than the wild applause the President received for passing a tax bill that will reward the wealthy and corporations while scientists doing important research on environmental, health, and climate issues will be left to fight for whatever revenue is left.
Or consider his boasts about the great team he has chosen—all while excluding the fact that most of them oppose the core mission of the agencies they lead. For example, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt made his name suing the agency he now leads and is now trying to grind it to a halt, while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seems determined to auction off as much public land as possible to extraction industries, science be damned.
The President received sustained applause from anti-science Members for his boast about cutting regulations and red tape for businesses that includes withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and surrendering American leadership on the issue while repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions.
Compare this rhetoric to that of the scientists I talk to day in and day out who are now running for Congress, many of whom have to make an extra effort simply to stray from the issues they are so passionate about to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. It is because those of us who have spent time in the lab know that is it dogged persistence, not bragging, that separates failure from success.
Setting the President’s hubris aside, it was perhaps what the President didn’t mention that spoke the greatest volumes. No mention of efforts to weaken evidence-based pollution and chemical safety standards. No mention of the way the White House has acted to silence scientists, misrepresented climate science, altered information on government websites or deleted important scientific data altogether. No mention of the fact that federal agencies are being run by people who were chosen for their industry ties rather than their scientific expertise.
The President’s silence on these issues is telling. They have not made America stronger, safer or prouder. The Trump Administration has pursued its anti-science agenda unchallenged by the GOP led Congress. Unqualified nominees have been rubber stamped in the Senate. Neither Senate nor House committees with jurisdiction have shown any interest in their oversight responsibilities.
These blatant, unbridled attacks are a large part of why I founded 314 Action and it’s why our network will continue to lead the charge to bring science, facts and reason back to Washington. It is clear that the status quo is not working. The only way to change the anti-science narrative in Washington is to change the kind of people we send there. Voters are hungry for change, and I believe one of the more productive ways we can create change is by increasing the number of people in Congress who understand science and have a STEM background.
The work of 314 Action remains guided by one overarching principle: our union cannot be strong without science.