They may not like it, but scientists must work with President Trump

by Judith Curry

Jack Stilgoe and Roger Pielke Jr. have written a superb article on the response of scientists to the Trump presidency.

The reactions from scientists about a Trump presidency are predictable: a disaster for the climate and planet, threats to leave the country, concerns about having to leave their current job that relies on government funding, etc.

In the midst of all this angst (not to mention craziness), Jack Stilgoe and Roger Pielke have published a superb article in the Guardian entitled They may not like it, but scientists must work with Donald Trump.  Excerpts:

Donald Trump has won. Science and scientists played almost no part in the campaign. Now, scientists must consider how they fit into a Trump future.  In the tribal world of US politics, many now find themselves on the outside looking in. Most university scientists are Democrats, and the 2017 President, House and Senate will all be Republican. For this group, nothing portends disaster more than the elevation of a long-time opponent to national and international policies, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to oversee the transformation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

While speculating on details like who Trump will ask to replace John Holdren as his science advisor, scientists should not just be asking what Trump will do for them. They should face up to the difficult question of what they should be doing for Trump.

There are thousands of political appointees, including many science positions, that will need to be nominated, expert advisory bodies constituted and reconstituted, and experts put into staff positions under the White House. Any scientist who agrees to hold their nose and work with the Trump administration should expect much of the same criticism received by Marburger.

No one knows what Trump will do – on science or much else. However, the history of US science funding shows that Republican presidents “appear more eager to spend [money on R&D] than their Democratic counterparts”.
How should scientists engage on policy issues such as vaccination and climate change, where Republicans are often accused of being anti-science, or worse, at war with science? Despite Trump’s rhetorical nods to the social conservative wing of his party during the campaign and his enthusiasm for convenient conspiracy theories, he is clearly a pragmatist with little worry about changing his policy preferences.

Scientists should therefore ask themselves whether they would support policies that did what they regard as the right thing, but for the ‘wrong’ reasons. Policies focused on deploying electric vehicles and nuclear or wind power may be justified in purely economic rather than environmental terms. Alternatively, environmental regulations may provide convenient cover for the taxing of imports as the USA struggles to justify a new protectionism. When it comes to climate change, maybe the pragmatic business of policy design might finally take precedence over trying to convince a Republican Congress to see the world through a climate scientist’s eyes.

It would be easy for scientists to bring back an opposition strategy focused on defending a so-called ‘war on science’. Scientists should be aware that the playbook that many followed to oppose President George W Bush may not work as well under a less ideologically-driven president.

For scientists and other experts, the surprise election of Donald Trump to the US presidency comes with choices. How we respond, inside our own communities and in relation to governments will determine whether we remain relevant or jeopardise the constructive role that we should play in policy and politics, regardless of our allegiances.

JC reflections

In my recent post Trumping the Elites, along with my previous posts on the presidential election, I went out of my way to be non-partisan.  I bet none of you has any idea how I voted (I have only told two people).  Nevertheless, I am being roundly criticized for congratulating President Trump in my blog post (e.g. I shouldn’t be patting him on the back or pretending to support him in any way).  Heck, even Hillary Clinton and President Obama congratulated Trump.

I would like to thank Stilgoe and Pielke Jr. for their much needed analysis and statement.

I was struck by an article earlier this week in the WSJ: How Donald Trump Filled the Dignity Deficit.  It is focused on the white working class voters (the so-called ‘deplorables’).  Here’s to hoping that a change from the Obama/Clinton world of encouraging advocacy science can restore dignity the community of scientists that choose not to advocate for progressive causes and prefer to go where the evidence leads them.  Scientists (not to mention professional societies) calling other scientists ‘deniers’ and worse who directly or indirectly challenge their political causes and preferred policy outcomes needs to stop. Otherwise the scientific enterprise in the U.S. risks longterm damage.

JC message to scientists: Lets try to use the opportunity afforded by the election results to minimize advocacy science, support funding priorities that will serve the public good, and provide the best evidenced-based advice (tempered by a careful uncertainty assessment) that we can.

Filed under: Politics, Sociology of science

Judith Curry

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