Undermining science damages society: Scientists unite against the latest political changes

Undermining science damages society: Scientists unite against the latest political changes

Know Science is a non-profit organization that was born with the mission to share science and the latest scientific discoveries with the taxpayers that finance the research: YOU. A week after the Trump administration took office, the scientific community has already begun fearing for its operational independence, its freedom in communicating scientific findings to the public and, ultimately, in the ability for the US to continue being a leader in science and biotech.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the HHS (Department of Health and Human Services), the Department of Transportation and the National Park Service were told to stop any form of communication to the media and the general public regarding their research results. Publication in scientific journals would still be allowed, but photographs, press releases, blogs or social media posts are forbidden, at least until the content has been vetted by the political appointees (aka, the Trump administration’s transition team). Which raises the question, should politics control the press in such a radical way? And, when it comes to science and facts-based evidence, withholding information from the public sounds even more radical.

If this is not enough to alarm you, it also seems that EPA contracts approvals have been frozen and new funds for research withheld. It’s not only access to information that is being oppressed – it’s access to resources too. EPA is the agency that writes and enforces rules aimed at protecting the environment: it regulates and controls matters like emissions from vehicles, the chemical composition of drinking water, or the safe disposal of hazardous wastes. Significant cuts in staff and budget imply diminishing the relevance of EPA by practically taking power away from it. Repurposing funds towards ‘alternative’ projects (perhaps based on ‘alternative’ facts?) means changing the agency’s fundamental mission in protecting the environment.  

Trump’s nominee for EPA administration, Scott Pruitt, has denied the scientific evidence of environmental concerns – such as climate change and its causes, including the dramatic increase in man-made CO2 emissions. Therefore it comes with no surprise that the new administration is subtly trying to shut down the scientific perspective of the environmental issue.

[For a comprehensive recap of the scientific information behind climate change, we recommend the National Academy Research Council’s Division on Earth and Life Studies PDF.

The science black-out is just the tip of the iceberg as scientists, doctorates and students in Colleges, Ivy League Universities and Research Institutions across the country are being detained at airports and denied entry back into the country. To name a few, a Stanford student, originally from Sudan, was being detained at JFK as she returned from her research trip, the President of the Graduate Students Organization at Stony Brook University, an Iranian linguist at her 6th year of Ph.D. has been denied entry and Samira Asgari, a renowned scientist offered a job at Harvard’s Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston  was denied entry as she was leaving Switzerland where she has been working for the past few years. She has even won a prestigious award that would have paid for her salary while working in the US but her future is currently unclear.

It’s not just the future of these individuals to be unclear, but the future of science and academic research, of higher education and of so many other industries undermined by the immigration ban. The impact on science has been immediately devastating. Not only research in many field has been altogether slowed down or irreversibly halted in a matter of hours, but a huge amount of money has been lost.

Perhaps many do not know that health and biotechnology are $350 billion-a-year industries that makes up 20 % of the United States annual revenue, more than the automotive industry, and is also the largest and fastest growing sector in 2016. The ban restricts the movement people, ideas, discoveries and money.

Top institutions and universities across the country have spoken against the immigration ban. Most notably, the Rockefeller University, one of the foremost biomedical research centers in the United States, counting 24 Nobel laureates,  more than Australia and Spain combined, has issued a statement against the new policy.

If science is about bringing to light new, hidden knowledge of the world around us, scientists cannot accept to be silenced as communicating scientific discoveries is as important as the discovery itself. The option of blacking out science from society, insulating people from knowledge, controlling information to keep the people in the dark, is unconceivable in democracy. The Know Science team will continue the work to share facts, accurate information, and latest science advances – bringing science to the people, where it belongs!

 

KS 2017

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