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Where does science fit in a Trump presidency?

| Thursday, November 17, 2016

An important issue lost in the vitriolic rhetoric diffuse throughout the past election is that of science and scientific policy. Ms. Clinton, to her credit, clearly laid out plans to combat both HIV and autism, pledging to invest in research and current drugs which help to alleviate or prevent these disorders. She also took a bold stance to fight climate change, arguably the greatest issue we as a nation face, pledging to provide subsidies for clean energy and continuing the Obama administration’s caps on carbon emissions.

However, we now know that Ms. Clinton will not be president; Mr. Trump will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. We know very little about his specific policies, but what we do know should raise alarm within the scientific community. Flying in the face of almost every published manuscript dealing with climate science, Mr. Trump believes climate change is a hoax, and furthered this by tapping noted climate change denier and nonscientist Myron Ebell to head the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr. Pence, the vice president-elect and leading the transition to a Trump administration, has called the science behind climate change “mixed” and is a proponent of creationism being taught alongside evolution in classrooms. Pence also wrote an op-ed claiming smoking doesn’t kill, and is opposed to stem cell research. Giving creationism a valid platform is dangerous and a hindrance to educating future students about evidence-based research. In the same vein, we also know how harmful President Bush’s 2001 ban on embryonic stem cell research was to the American scientific community, as numerous scientists left for labs abroad. Embryonic stem cells are garnered from unused embryos slated to be destroyed after in vitro fertilization, a procedure which will continue regardless of whether there is a ban on the utilization of these extra cells for research. While pluripotent cells can be derived from adult tissue, embryonic cells have been extremely useful in understanding human development and genetic disorders. Halting this research would delay the development of future treatments for numerous disorders.

Mr. Trump’s stated immigration policies will also harm scientific output in this country. Numerous foreign students and researchers either possess religious beliefs or hail from countries which would disqualify them from entering the country. This loss of scientific talent would only be a detriment.

While no one can know for sure what a Trump presidency will mean for American science, the actions he and his staff have taken, both now and in the past, are not promising. Hopefully these stances will not translate to policy, but the scientific community should be prepared for partisan politics to enter a traditionally nonpartisan sphere. Lobbying for the continuation of funding for unbiased research will be critical for our future. Scientific innovation is a hallmark of American society; Mr. Trump would be wise to continue this tradition.

Kieran Phelan
Nov. 15

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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