Donald Trump’s war on science feels very familiar to some people.
Canadian scientists are warning their colleagues in the United States to be wary of an anti-science bias in the rhetoric and actions of President-elect Donald Trump, saying they witnessed a similar freeze-out from former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
In an article published in Scientific American, David Tarasick, senior research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, says the Harper government’s attempts to prevent its scientists from speaking to the media about their research – not just on climate change but on a wide range of topics considered by the Conservative government to affect national interests – was just one example of a top-down anti-science mood which he sees to be developing in similar fashion south of the border.
“There was a feeling that the government was not interested in expert opinion, and I think it’s the same kind of thing that you are probably going to see with the new [Trump] administration,” says Tarasick, who says he was kept from doing media interviews for weeks after the publication in the journal Nature of his research on ozone losses in the Arctic.
The sentiment was echoed by University of Victoria climate scientist and BC Green Party MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Andrew Weaver, who states that he was contacted shortly after Trump’s election win in November by two U.S. climate scientists looking to leave the States for jobs in Canada (which they did). “It’s going to be a good time for Canadian science, I guess,” says Weaver.
Canadians warn about Donald Trump’s war on science…
Weaver’s advice to U.S. scientists is to take seriously their duty to communicate the value of science to U.S. citizens.
“The public will only support the science if they understand its value,” says Weaver. “You don’t have to attack Trump, you just have to let people know why science is important. Ultimately it is the public that sways governments—not any one or two scientists.”
Earlier this month, a group of more than 800 U.S. Earth science and energy experts signed an open letter to President-elect Trump urging him to take “immediate and sustained action” against human-caused climate change, something Trump has previously called a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government.
Trump’s selections for key positions in his administration have been roundly criticized for their anti-science and climate change-denying views, including the pick of known climate change denier Myron Ebell to lead the transition team at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Trump’s latest move was to appoint Congressperson Mick Mulvaney (R-South Carolina) to run the Office of Management and Budget. As well as being a climate change denier, Mulvaney has been publicly critical of the very idea of government-funded research.
The appointment was greeted by a letter from Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science with the advocacy group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, which stated, “The White House Office of Management and Budget is central to good government—including its role overseeing science-based public health, safety and environmental protections. Rep. Mulvaney has a long record of supporting legislation that would roll back and undermine those protections.”
On the Canadian front, Tarasick believes that public distaste for the Harper government’s anti-science stance in part led to its defeat last year at the hands of the more science-friendly Liberals. “In Canada, the government was subject to a lot of criticism because of the message control, and it’s regarded to have contributed significantly to their loss in last year’s election,” says Tarasick. “One of the new government’s very first acts was to declare that scientists were free to speak to the media.”