Immigration

How Yuge Will Trump’s Influence Be on United States Science?

Daniel Baum, MJLST Staffer

Science was only a minute fragment of the candidates’ campaigns, but many researchers have expressed fears about Trump. “Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society, told Nature. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.” How severe, and which kinds of science will Trump influence?

One science topic that was explicitly discussed in the campaigns was climate change. Trump has long denied climate change, and as Trump turned to the Republican Party’s conservative base, he said that his administration will focus on “real environmental challenges, not phony ones.” However, Trump has expressed support for economically beneficial climate change research: he told Science Debate that “[p]erhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels” and specified that those energy sources worth developing include wind, solar, nuclear, and bio-fuels.

Trump has also taken the Republican Party’s businessman’s approach to space and public health research. For space research, Trump thinks that we should seek global partners and would like to expand the role of the commercial space industry in the US space program. Discussing public health research, Trump told conservative radio host Michael Savage, “I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible.” Trump told Science Debate that instead of giving the NIH all the funding it needs, “efforts to support research and public health initiatives will have to be balanced with other scarce resources” by Congress, where the Republicans now control both houses.

In order to do good science, the United States needs the best researchers. However, Trump’s strong anti-immigration stance may dissuade foreign scientists from coming to or staying in the United States to do research—why should a highly skilled researcher come to or stay in the U.S. if he or she will have to do research in an environment hostile to immigrants? With fewer noncitizen scientists, we’ll need to train our own scientists with great science education. Unfortunately, Trump has expressed essentially anti-education policies. He argues that some colleges and universities should bear the burden of students’ loan debt and that the federal government should stop making money off student loans. Trump also wants to pull federal funding from the Department of Education, or demolish it altogether, and make management of public education at the state and local level while removing federal funding for low-income public schools.

Overall, Trump will change science in the United States bigly. If he sticks to the points he made on the campaign trail, the United States will have fewer scientists, and they will mostly only receive federal funding to do research on things that the Republican Party thinks will make Americans money. That could include the development of new environmentally friendly energy sources, but most likely not space or public health research. But there is still hope: this change will only be so yuge if Trump sticks exactly to what he said while campaigning. Already, less than a week after being elected, Trump has backpedaled on his rabid anti-Obamacare stance, and maybe he’ll realize that the best way to make America great again is to make Americans and American science great again.