Science and Politics

On April 22nd, 2017 over 1 million people hit the roads across the world in the march for science. The march for science is a celebration of science. However, there were murmurs of disgruntlement at the marches held at Washington D.C and other American cities against the current ruling regime in the US. Scientists, science enthusiasts, teachers, parents and students showed dissent in the form of placards and chants against the funding decisions of the Trump government. The federal budget of 2017 showed every sign of significantly impacting climate change programs. Some of the posters read ‘Trump’s team are like atoms, they make everything up’; ‘Alternative energy = jobs, alternative facts = lies’

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Credit: @riseupready on instagram

While, we may want to think of Science as apolitical, however, the reality is far from truth. The fact is that the party that we elect to power can decide the course of research during its ruling years. Just this October, Trump agreed that while Climate change exists, he does not know if it’s man made. Since Trump’s appointment in 2016, the US has announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Strictly speaking, no country can take a departure from the treaty till before 4th Nov, 2019.

You may ask why Trump is such a naysayer of climate change. A political party’s election to the ruling office is guided by its mandate during the election drive. Donald trump had championed the cause of the neglected coal miners during his election drive. Not only this, he went on to call climate change a ‘hoax’ while emphasizing how it was a Chinese conspiracy to upend the American economy. His tweet claimed “”The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”. Yes, you read that right.

No sooner was Trump made president that he appointed Ricky Perry, a known climate change denier, the Energy secretary. Mr. Perry had earlier sat on the corporate boards of oil pipeline companies. To add insult to injury, Scott Pruitt, nominated by Trump became the administrator of Environment Protection agency. Mr. Pruitt had earlier sued the EPA over its clean air regulations. During his short tenure as the administrator of the EPA, he weakened Ex-President Obama’s climate change regulations, known as the Clean Power Plan and delayed a rule that would require fossil fuel companies to rein in leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells. It will not come as a surprise to know that Trump’s inauguration was funded heavily by Oil and Gas majors – Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron, Citgo and BP Corporation. Joseph Craft and Christopher Cline who are both Coal company each gave an additional $1 million, as did chemical and mining company head Clifford Forrest 3 .  If you connect the dots, you can draw a line through Trump’s Election Drive – Government Appointments-Climate Policy changes.

Al Jazeera has covered the radical changes made to scientific research in America in 2017 from writing about budget cuts of $12.6bn cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the Environmental Protection Agency facing a budget cut of $528 million. The EPA and USA were reported banned from providing public updates via press releases or social media without prior screening and approval. Scientific research viability and liberty have suffered a hard knock. This is just the tip of the iceberg. And it’s not just America which faces such regressive political meddling in scientific research. It can indeed be seen everywhere across the world.

So, should we assume that Trump’s regressive stance is the start of science becoming political? I would urge everyone to think a few times over. Science has always been political.  Scientific American in its April 2017 guest blog clearly covers this and I quote “Society decides what kind of knowledge scientists are permitted to obtain and disseminate. The Vatican famously imprisoned Galileo and forced him to recant his scientific assertions that the Earth revolves around the Sun to avoid being burned at the stake. Under Stalin, the Soviet government supported the science of Lysenko, a pseudoscientist who rejected basic principles in biology, because his theories supported the principles of Marxism.  This gave rise to Lysenkoism, a term used to reference the manipulation of the scientific process to achieve ideological goals. This term seems more and more relevant today”.

There is a lot to think as far as decoupling of politics and scientific research goes and the time is indeed now.

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