The past three weeks have meant that the previously enjoyable activity of looking at Facebook has instead become a daily battle of emotions as I brace myself to learn of another Trump shocker. A travel ban on 7 countries, banning organizations from speaking to the public and a petty fight over who had the most fans “ever” at the strange inauguration thing – the headlines just keep on coming from the Trump establishment.
It is nigh on impossible amongst all this mess to determine what Trump’s intentions are for his time as President, and that includes what he intends for US science. Demanding lists of climate scientists and electing climate-sceptic Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA are moves that add up to form a clear picture of a president with a real agenda about climate science. But could these actions be indicative of wider government policies to come? Can we expect more interfering from Trump? At the heart of all science is the quest to determine truth and fact. This does not appear to be a dogma that The Donald subscribes to. If Trump has such little respect for these two concepts (cue Kelly-Anne Conway) it is very unlikely that he sees the concept of science as having merit in its own right.
Much more likely is that Trump sees science as merely a means to an end, specifically the means to his end of an industrial America. Science programmes that have the ability to provide instantly useful technologies for Trump’s favoured industries are likely to enjoy a boom under Trump, whilst those sciences deemed to be interfering or (god forbid) not useful will be ridiculed and side-lined.
This process, of picking and choosing sciences to fund purely on their perceived usefulness in furthering political agendas, has been seen before. Under Stalin the USSR had strict criteria for science it liked and science it didn’t. Mendelian genetics and other biological sciences were banned for being un-Marxist practices supported by the bourgeoisie. Statistical mathematics was abandoned and the law of standard deviation labelled a ‘false theory’. Early cybernetics was ‘capitalist pseudo-science’ and quantum physics ‘idealist’.
These clampdowns on ‘ideological’ science occurred at the same time as the expansion of the Soviet nuclear and astronomy programmes. The glorification of certain sciences seemingly excused the brutal rubbishing of science that fell outside of the USSR’s ideals, leaving some Russian sciences years behind the rest of the world. Could the same thing be about to happen in the land of the free?
With an administration that says science should be left to the scientists, whilst simultaneously electing anti-vaccine activists to government health panels, this is a real possibility. But this time there would be one major difference. In the years since the 1950’s, science has become ever more defined by international collaboration and data sharing. If scientific programmes are attacked in America the detrimental effects will be felt across the globe. For that reason we should carry on steeling ourselves to sift through the Facebook rants and offensive tweets, looking for changes to American science policy. The world can not afford to let science be repressed again.