In the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in yesterday’s Presidential election, scientists and science policy experts are beginning to consider what his administration could mean for the future of science. It’s much too early to say anything for sure, but President-elect Trump has made many statements about climate change, healthcare and other issues that offer at least a rudimentary glimpse into his general attitudes.
His campaign also responded recently to a series of questions about science and technology posed by ScienceDebate.org; we graded his answers the lowest (by an enormous margin) of those offered by the four presidential candidates. Trump got seven points, compared with 30 for Gary Johnson, 44 for Jill Stein, and 64 for Hillary Clinton.
Trump openly denies anthropogenic climate change, which more than half of Americans take seriously. He once called it a Chinese-born conspiracy, and frequently refers to it as a hoax at rallies. (97 percent of scientists agree it’s real and man-made). He reportedly will pick a top climate skeptic Myron Ebell to assist in the EPA transition, but might want to eliminate the EPA anyway. World leaders, especially in coastal countries most threatened by climate change worry Trump’s words could dismantle the recent Paris deal that would cut greenhouse gas emissions. The AP reports that environmentalists and climate scientists are upset about his election. Folks hope Trump will change his mind (like he often does) and honor American climate agreements. Plus, it takes four years to pull out of the accords, so maybe there’s still hope.
Another complaint is that Trump’s strict anti-immigration views could have a chilling effect on American science in general. Kevin Wilson, director of public policy and media relations at the American Society for Cell Biology, told Nature he thought the result would decrease scientist interest in coming to America for research. One Nature report found that almost 40 percent of scientists working in the United States were foreign born. Replacing them with U.S.-born scientists might not be easy. Trump has suggested allowing poor students to go to school wherever they want, according to an NPR report, but this might reallocate resources from the worst schools that need it to the schools that already have the highest performing students, said NPR Ed's Eric Westervelt and Cory Turner. That would remove opportunities from underperformers and those who might need more nurturing in school.
The biggest issue is that scientists simply don’t know what Trump is going to do. Trump has changed his mind on plenty of matters; he’s maintained few constants besides wanting to cut spending, keep out immigrants and burn fossil fuels. We don’t know if he’ll cut science spending, and we know he’s interested in a stronger private company presence in some fields, like space exploration. Scientists have already begun tweeting about their worry that these budget cuts will hit their fields of research via the NIH or NSF.
Jeffrey Mervis writing for Science offered some advice for President Trump. That includes selecting an adroit lead for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. Scientists hope that Trump will offer them respect, and Bart Gordon, former chairman of the House of Representatives science committee, thought that an infrastructure bill which included scientist input and research funding could help warm ties between the President and the science community.
We’ll simply have to wait to see what happens.