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The pothole of policy – Trump on science 11.11.16

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Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America. What could this mean for science and technology in the US and by association, the rest of the world? Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society, isn’t confident. He described Trump as “the first anti-science president we have ever had.” Speaking to Nature, Mr. Lubell said, “The consequences [for science] are going to be very, very severe”. It can’t be that bad can it? We have a look at some of Trump’s publicly stated beliefs on STEM issues to see what the potential impact could be.

First up, the environment. Trump has referred to climate change as a hoax that was “created by and for the Chinese”. He claims to believe in “weather,” and “clean, beautiful and healthy air – not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit.” So much for a new era of evidence-based policy then.

How about energy? Well in March, 2011 after the Fukushima nuclear disaster Trump told Fox News: “I am in favour of nuclear energy – very strongly in favour of nuclear energy. … You have to look very carefully – have the best people in terms of safeguards for nuclear energy, but we do need nuclear energy.” Sounds sensible, right? So how about alternative forms of energy, as part of a rich and varied energy mix? For an opinion on this we go to Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, written by one Donald J Trump, and turn to page 65: “There has been a big push to develop alternative forms of energy–so-called green energy–from renewable sources. That’s a big mistake. To begin with, the whole push for renewable energy is being driven by the wrong motivation, the mistaken belief that global climate change is being caused by carbon emissions. If you don’t buy that–and I don’t–then what we have is really just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves.” I am getting a sense of déjà vu here…

Let’s try something different, what about medicine? In September 2015 the Washington Post reported on Trump’s view that childhood vaccinations cause autism in children. Blimey, did he not read the GMC’s report into the discredited and disgraced Andrew Wakefield and the MMR controversy in 2010?

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How about biodiversity, any enlightened or informed views from Trump on GM? It’s a hugely important industry in America, with more than 70 million hectares of land used to cultivate GM crops – more than any other nation in the world. Well he tweeted and then deleted a statement that suggested that his then contender Ben Carson was beating him in Iowa because “too much Monsanto in the corn creates issues in the brain?”

Right, space exploration next. Everyone loves a bit of space exploration don’t they, especially America, the nation that sent the first men to the moon, the home of Star Trek, Star Wars and NASA. Of course they do, and so does Trump, who told ScienceDebate.org: “a strong space program will encourage our children to seek STEM [education] and will bring millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in investment to this country.” He also told a young boy in 2015 that space is “terrific”. However, he did go on to qualify this remark with “Right now, we have bigger problems — you understand that? We’ve got to fix our potholes. You know, we don’t exactly have a lot of money.” That’s one way to inspire the next generation to take up the STEM mantle…

On to tech and the Internet, and here Donald begins to sound all of his 70 years, referencing his 10-year old son, computers, ISIS and then talking around the subject in the vague hope that some of it is correct. “We came up with the Internet,” he claimed in one of the televised presidential debates (to the possible bemusement of Sir Tim Berners Lee and CERN). “…When you look at what ISIS is doing with the Internet, they’re beating us at our own game. ISIS. So we had to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is a huge problem. I have a son—he’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers. It’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe, it’s hardly doable. But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing. But that’s true throughout our whole governmental society.” Trump also opposed a plan that would see the US cede control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation that allocates domain names and IP addresses in the wholly mistaken belief that it would “surrender American Internet control to foreign powers.” All of which shows a less than informed understanding of how the Internet actually works.

So how about research funding in general? The National Institutes of Health is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services; investing more than $30 billion in biomedical research and health-related research in the last year. Surely it’s a good thing to invest in, right? Not for the man who wants to reform the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare. “We cannot simply throw money at these institutions and assume that the nation will be well served,” he told ScienceDebate.org. “Our efforts to support research and public health initiatives will have to be balanced with other demands for scarce resources.” Back to prioritising the potholes, this could be a long four years, let’s hope the STEM community can hope for more than just counting down the days by playing Trump v Science.

If you have any questions about this blog please email joe.meaney@aprilsixproof.com