I’m writing this editorial on November 9, 2016. It’s the day after the American election, and while many thoughts are racing through my mind, I’m currently wondering what effect President Donald J. Trump will have on the landscape of scientific research. Over the next 4 years, things will change for scientists in the United States—the question is, will it be for better or for worse?
At the moment, not much is known about how Trump will approach funding for science. During the presidential campaign, there was little information from the candidates regarding their thoughts on biomedical research. However, Trump’s statements on some scientific issues, found in Tweets and interviews, point toward a potentially challenging environment for scientists. He does not believe in climate change and has said that he will try to get the US out of various climate treaties. He has also made mention of a possible link between vaccines and autism, although this theory has been repeatedly debunked. And, most concerning for life scientists, he has stated publicly criticized the management of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Does this mean that all is lost? Not necessarily. It does mean, however, that scientists and those who support scientific research must be vocal. The fact that a presidential nominee (now the President-elect) could still think that there is a link between autism and vaccination is not completely his fault—it is as much a failing of the scientific community as a whole for continuing to let this patently false idea fester in the public’s mind.
As advocates for scientific progress, it is incumbent upon us to promote science to the best of our ability so that both the public and government officials understand the value of the research being done on a daily basis in this country as well as the many international research collaborations that received U.S. funding. Don’t avoid speaking about science in public, don’t avoid talking to journalists about experiments, and don’t avoid teaching those who want to learn more—these activities are not a waste of time.
There is no way to tell what will happen once Trump takes office on January 20th, 2017. But we can’t simply sit in fear of funding cuts or loss of government support for key scientific initiatives. Many people can’t immediately see the importance of our work—but maybe with a little effort, we can make everyone from our new president on down a little more knowledgeable about the benefits of science today. Send your thoughts and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.