The Anti-Science President
When I started to write this blog the first thought that came into my head was: the only person that hates science more than me is Trump. But, that isn’t really true. The truth is that I was really poor in science and math, but I have great respect for science and scientists. How could anyone born after World War II not have the greatest possible respect for science?
The pesky part of science is that the scientific method may not produce the answer you want when you want it. That is why Trump dislikes science and distrusts scientists. He knows the political answer he wants. If he can’t get it, then he trashes the science, trashes the scientists, and failing everything else, hides, alters or diminishes the scientific evidence. This has been happening since Trump took office and will continue until he isn’t. A good example is scrubbing mention of global warming from government websites and censoring the content of scientific reports.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying Trump does all this personally. He has plenty of willing helpers that carry out his broad policy objectives. In every federal agency within the executive branch there is an appointed head, i.e., a political appointee. That agency head is expected to meet Trump’s political goals. That agency head then does whatever is necessary within the agency to accomplish the goals.
A good example of what I am trying to describe was covered by The New York Times on March 4, 2020 in a story entitled Proposed Trump Rule Targets Public Health (in print)/EPA updates Plan to Limit Science Used in Environmental Rule (online).
Trump’s broad goal is to eliminate and rollback EPA regulations of all kinds. The EPA has broad authority and a legal obligation to regulate. This authority and obligation is conferred upon the agency by the law Congress enacted creating the agency. Obviously, Congress simply doesn’t have the time nor expertise to pass specific laws affecting all of the many details necessary to ensure we have a healthy environment. Therefore, the EPA adopts and enforces rules and regulations. In the rule making process, the EPA is supposed to be guided by the best scientific research available.
Trump’s goal of removing regulation is much harder if the best scientific research won’t justify those actions. Consequently, the Trump administration has formally proposed a rule that will restrict the type of research that can be used to draft environmental and public health regulations. The proposal is to the effect that the EPA will give preference to studies in which all underlying data is available. This may sound innocuous to non-scientists, but it is a very big deal to real scientists because some of the very best research is based upon data that is not publicly available, such as confidential medical records. According to the Times: “Under the new version of the plan, the EPA, when writing or revising environmental regulations, would have to give greater weight to research in which the underlying data are available to be retested. Critics of the proposal, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, argue that the administration’s real goal was to raise questions about the bedrock studies that helped establish modern regulations governing clean air and water.”
Do we want the best available science or do we just want compliant scientists?