An alternative America – How will the Trump administration impact science?

A mere fortnight had passed since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of the United States, a short period that has sent shock waves throughout the world. Whether you are a supporter or not, the fact is that Trump is a controversial leader whose presidency will have implications into many fields, both nationally and abroad.

How will this new administration impact science? What will be the role of scientists in the years to come? To find out what is the perspective of american scientists on this topic, we spoke with three US-born researchers at Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown: Baylor Brangers, Tracy Pritchett and Aaron Koralek.

“This is a call to arms among us scientists and we are starting to run for office. PAC 314 is a great example of this.” – Baylor Brangers

Baylor Brangers – PhD Student @ Neuroethology lab. Originally from: Louisville, Kentucky USA.

My greatest concern is that the current administration is making science a partisan issue, which it isn’t. The current administration also seems to be embracing “alternative” facts, which might make it difficult in the future for fact-based discoveries to be taken seriously or more easily for overturning long-held scientific teachings (evolution for example). In addition, I am very worried about government censorship of information that is contradictory to their as messages. We have already started to see this happening at our EPA and Department of Agriculture and I expect the same at other government organizations. I honestly can’t believe that I even have to worry about this in 2017.

I think a better education in science can prepare citizens to be more critical and better prepared and informed, thus making them more able to pick out what is fact and what if fiction.I think scientists will also have to take more active role in the current political climate. This is a call to arms among us scientists and we are starting to run for office. PAC 314 is a great example of this.

One last issue I would like to stress is compassion. Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, misogynist. There are some real problems facing America and for the last 30 years there has been a general decline in our quality of life. I feel like both parties have let middle america down, either through neoliberal policies or trickle-down economics. Middle America is experiencing a real existential crisis at the moment. Towns are dying. Labor is being mechanized with no replacements for the jobs that are lost. Schools are shutting down. As such, for some, a vote for Trump was a vote made in desperation. At some point, there will need to be a reconciliation in our country and when this happens, we need to accept these people back into the fray with open arms. Not doing this will be a grave mistake on our part and will just result in larger rifts between groups. We will need to work together to solve our problems and this will never be accomplished with a divided nation.Compassion, patience, and acceptance will be instrumental in this process.

“Asking basic questions about how and why the world works is a major part of science that can’t be overlooked.” – Tracy Pritchett

Tracy Pritchett – Research Technician @ Neural Circuits and Behavior lab. Originally from: Hampton, Virginia, USA.

My greatest concern is how funding will influence those asking basic research questions. To further explain, if you submit a fellowship or grant that does not focus on disease treatment via pharmacological drug development then your funding will be cut or taken away all together. Asking basic questions about how and why the world works is a major part of science that can’t be overlooked. Understanding simple questions connect us to understanding how humans are connect to planet on which we live and how our own bodies function, which leads to the prevention or cure from diseases.

To prevent some of the possible negative outcomes this administration may have on science and research, society as a whole can demand change in three ways. One, people in the US are already starting marches/protests demanding the current administration accept current data on climate change. Secondly, people need to call local and federal government officials to tell them they demand science be funded and considered when enacting new policies. Lastly, people need to vote in mid term elections that can change the make up of the congress thus putting checks on the new White House.

Scientist need to stay vigilant in speaking truth to the the public. When the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was told not to speak to the public; EPA workers used the free press to let the public know that the administration was keeping the public uninformed. As scientist we also need to keep up to date on peer reviewed publication of findings open to the public.

“There are many articles explaining practical ways to use inoculation theory in your daily life to persuade Trump supporters who remain sensitive to logic and facts.” – Aaron Koralek

Aaron Koralek – Postdoc @ Neurobiology of Action lab. Originally from: Palo Alto, California, USA.

As a scientist, there are many specific policies that are concerning. For example, Trump’s administration puts the status of a huge number of federal grants in question. So far, these have largely been related to research on climate change and alternative energy sources, but many other fields are also in danger.

However, more frightening than these specifics, the rise of Trump has been accompanied by an increasing resistance to facts and truth among his followers, and a strong backlash against academics from all fields who deliver that truth. Unfortunately, this makes it nearly impossible to have informed debates to try to temper the political polarization we currently see in the US, and it suggests that knowledge and evidence will not necessarily be taken into account when the administration makes wide-ranging policy decisions.

I think the most powerful thing scientists can do is support the independent media and back up their factual claims with the strongest evidence possible, as well as explaining in detail the ways in which specific lies warp the truth and exposing the liars’ motivations and techniques for doing so.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, the most relevant psychological research is “inoculation theory“, which lays out methods for strengthening people’s viewpoints and making them more resistant to persuasion and propaganda from the opposing side. There are many articles explaining practical ways to use inoculation theory in your daily life to persuade Trump supporters who remain sensitive to logic and facts. Here is one example.

The silver lining is that the rise of Trump has reinvigorated the American progressives. The left had been largely complacent under the Obama administration. However, being reminded that political freedom is not guaranteed has sprung millions of Americans back into action.


 

Here we focus on science but at the end of the day everything is connected. For instance, with the current restrictions on US entry for citizens of seven countries, many european institutions, including the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, have extended an offer of help to any scientist stranded outside of the US. The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) has recently set this webpage where scientists can offer temporary bench space, a desk, access to a library, and perhaps even accommodation.

 


 

LiadHollender-01

Liad Hollender works as a Science Writer at the Science Communication Office at Champalimaud Research

 


 

Edited by: Catarina Ramos (Science Communication office)

 


 

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