During the recently concluded 2016 Presidential campaign, we heard concerns from many ASCB members about the anti-science actions a Donald Trump Administration might take if he were elected.
In just the first week in office, Trump Administration officials began placing limits on the activities of a number of science agencies within the federal government. These agencies include the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS).
According to the Associated Press (AP), the limits at the EPA include review by political appointees of all current content on the EPA website, including existing studies and data. After first telling the AP that restrictions would require all research to be reviewed by political appointees, the communications director of the Trump EPA Transition Team later said the review is limited to information on the EPA website.
A memo issued to ARS staff prohibited, in part, the release of all “public-facing documents.” The directive was later withdrawn.
The instructions to the NIH staff began with a suspension of communication with public officials. In a statement clarifying the first message, the suspension was expanded to include the publication of new rules or agency guidance.
In recent days, alternative twitter feeds have been created for several of the federal science agencies. These alt or rogue agency twitter feeds began to pop up in response to the Trump Administration issuing an order to suspend all Department of Interior twitter accounts.
While it is understandable that a new administration might want to review information on agency websites, especially those agencies without a full complement of senior leadership, the focus on peer reviewed scientific research is worrisome.
The ASCB strongly believes that peer reviewed scientific research should be free from intervention by politics. This research, especially if it is paid for by the American public, should also be promptly available to everyone.
On Wednesday, President Trump signed Executive Orders intended to reduce illegal immigration into the U.S. These orders, the construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, the building of additional detention facilities on the southern U.S. border, elimination of all federal funding to U.S. cities that have identified themselves as sanctuary cities, and the hiring of 5,000 more border patrol agents and the tripling of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, has increased concern that the administration may soon focus its attention on citizens from other nations, including those on student visas, legally in the U.S.
In 2013, when immigration was last debated in Congress, the ASCB published a white paper outlining our recommendations on changes to the immigration system that would benefit the science community. With this issue gaining importance again, the ASCB will share an updated version of that paper with leaders on Capitol Hill.
The internet is now abuzz with stories about a march in Washington, DC, by scientists that would be similar to the Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration. While the details are still being determined, the ASCB is pleased to support its development and has been working with march organizers. It is critical to remind our leaders of the importance and value of unbiased scientific research.
About the Author:
Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org