Female protest

I am not a huge personal fan of politics, getting into the SciTech section but as science is inevitably bound up with politics to some extent, particularly in the apportioning of research grants, I suppose this deserves commenting on. Besides there are numerous qualities of the Trump administration that would give the scientifically literate cause for concern, not least his stance on climate change.

The group of scientists called 500 Women Scientists joined the Women’s March on the 21st of January in Washington DC. Members of the group expressed concern not only about Trump’s own views but that of those of his cabinet also. Scott Pruitt, for example, the man Trump has chosen to head up the Environmental Protection Agency has expressed doubts about climate change. Others are creationists and the fear is that this could cause a regression in the quality of science education.

Among the chants of the scientists at the march were “science does not discriminate!” and “stand up for science!” echoing a general sense of discontent and of a depression at the reality of a future that may turn out to be anti-intellectual and unscientific in its outlook. If nothing else, the election of Trump as president has been said to betray a society who is ‘sick of experts’, and this is coming in the early twenty-first century, an age of some of the most profound scientific discoveries in history.

As for the protesters, their march seems to signal a growing attitude of discontent amongst the scientific community about the attitudes of politicians and of the people who vote for them. Much the same can be said of Brexit, and the potential that it has to damage the advancement of science on this side of the Atlantic. It is possible to see Trump as being merely a mouthpiece for widely held views among the population, as disseminated by news media, against, for example, climate change. As a man of the people, Trump might seem like an odd choice and he is certainly no scientist. The real danger is of reactionary policy measures being taken, such as pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Arguably this has been allowed to happen through widespread misunderstanding of climate change and of unnecessary debate through the warring factions of the American news media. The problem may even be the inherent division created by the left-right political paradigm in the first place and that this slows progress.

Whatever the outcome of the next four years, it seems clear that climate science is likely to suffer at least to some extent. The concerns of the protesters may even run to their own fields, and given that they now find themselves living under and administration who they perceive as being mistrustful of evidence-based research, could even be fearful of the security of their own jobs.
Given that this was part of the Women’s March there was also the fear that being governed by a man whose views on women are questionable to say the least, might foster and attitude of discrimination that the scientific community both in the US and elsewhere has strived for generations to try and avoid, due to the comparatively smaller numbers of women in science compared with men. Attitudes like this are feared to have a trickle-down effect to the rest of the population and the protester’s slogan that “science does not discriminate” seems especially prescient as far as this is concerned. Anyway, rant over, the core conclusion seems to be that Trump might be bad for women, women scientists and (therefore) for science in general.

Sam Cottle