Ever since Donald Trump became US president, certain sectors of American society have felt particularly embattled. His statements on Mexicans and Muslims are notorious, but there is another community, less heard about, that has also been sent reeling: scientists.
If politics has never been a world that is overly respectful to empirical research, Trump’s victory exploited a growing popular suspicion of expertise, and a tendency to seek out alternative narratives to fact-based analysis. Conspiracy theories, anti-vaccination campaigns and climate change deniers have all traded on this rejection of science, and their voices have all been heard, to differing degrees, in the new administration. But for the science community perhaps the most provocative act so far of Trump’s short time in office was the appointment of Scott Pruitt, a Republican lawyer and climate change sceptic, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“I’d say a lot of Trump’s cabinet picks are not ideal,” says Shaughnessy Naughton, of the science activist group 314 Action. “But Pruitt is really an offence to the organisation. He’s spent his career suing the EPA. He’s for state rights when it’s for polluters and against state rights when it’s for conservation or protecting the environment.”
Naughton is the founder of 314 Action, which seeks to promote Stem – science, technology, engineering and maths – education and help scientists become politicians. The name refers to the first three digits of the mathematical ratio pi, a scientific imprint that occurs everywhere in life. But too often, Naughton believes, science has remained aloof from politics, while politics has grown less troubled about getting involved in science.
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