Author: Joseph McCartney Waggle
But so far there’s no science to speak of in the administration at all.
There are 46 science and technology positions for which the President must send nominations to the Senate for confirmation. These range from commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the director of the Census Bureau, comprising many scientific different disciplines and levels of bureaucracy. All of these positions are meant to advise the administration — sometimes the President directly, as in the case of the empty chair of the Council on Environmental Quality — on the most important science-related issues facing the nation and the world today.
Government civilian science will not receive much support from the White House in the next four years, and this lack of support won’t be a central story in the media. What does that mean for the future of federal civilian science?
Still, it is unlikely that Trump’s budget will go far in Congress. Much of Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure as President was marked by clashes with Congress over his proposals of increased public health and environmental protection spending. Congressional leadership brought this boil down to a simmer when they renewed a truce known as the Bipartisan Budget Act, which capped the ratio of defense to civilian research funding and limited Congress’ discretionary spending privileges in these areas. Reversing that act and passing a ten-percent budget cut for science is not a battle this Congress wants to fight.
Trump’s budget is also expected to include a section about how he intends to pay for his infamous Mexican border wall. The wall, with its excellent media optics and vocal white nationalist support, is likely to dominate the media coverage of the budget. And other Trump scandals — free spending of taxpayer money on near-weekly trips away, overt and hidden ties to Russian interests, and a very active Twitter habit, to name a few — will perennially demand attention. In comparison, Trump’s attempt to slash science funding is tame, and will surely go underreported.
So, government civilian science will not receive much support from the White House in the next four years, and this lack of support won’t be a central story in the media. What does that mean for the future of federal civilian science?
The short answer is that none of us knows the answer. As I said elsewhere before the election, “Research that doesn’t seek to ‘Make America Great Again’ — that is, research that doesn’t increase manufacturing capacity, reduce reliance on foreign oil, or bolster military might — is deemed a waste of limited resources and therefore are unlikely to take priority.”
It seems that this prediction is about to come true, at least until Congress votes on the proposed budget. Federal civilian scientists should expect more battles like these from Trump’s administration. They should also expect more and more of their numbers to shift away from normal science and toward activist science, asserting their positions simultaneously as objective researchers and interested as citizens with families and wallets and votes. Take next month’s March for Science and the proliferation of alt-official Twitter handles for departments and agencies across the administration as early barometers of this trend.
In an anti-scientific atmosphere, scientific integrity and support for science policy could be a platform to win on, even in bright red voting districts where science is rarely discussed in campaigns.
Finally, when the White House takes a staunchly anti-scientific position, Congress will have to step in as the champion of science. Current leadership in Congress is less than impressive on this front. But 2018 is a major election year: there will be 435 elections in the House, and 33 in the Senate. In an anti-scientific atmosphere, scientific integrity and support for science policy could be a platform to win on, even in bright red voting districts where science is rarely discussed in campaigns.
Most importantly, we would all do well to remember that Donald J. Trump was a brand before he was a President, and he will do what he knows how to do best: he will stay on-brand. So science will likely see more struggles in the future of this administration.