Escalating the War on Science

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a piece by a scientist who was helping villages in Alaska prepare for climate change, until the Trump Administration abruptly transferred him to an accounting job.  Here’s another sign of the Administration’s contempt for science: Pruitt’s idea for a televised debate on the reality of climate change between climate scientists and deniers. Why a TV debate? Because “There are lots of questions that have not been asked and answered,”and “the American people would be very interested in consuming that.” Put aside the fact that the science is settled at this point. If it’s unsettled, is the way to decide complicated scientific disputes to go on TV and let the audience decide?

Of course, this should be no surprise. The Washington Post reported, Pruitt has led a campaign for Administration-wide action to challenge well-settled climate science. Given scientifically unfounded statements by other cabinet-level officials on the subject, he has presumably found a receptive audience.

Pruitt has reportedly relied more heavily on industry lobbyists than on EPA staff in making decisions. The NY Times discovered that, rather then obtaining expert input from staff, according to the Post, he “has outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists, and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general.”[1] The schism between agency staff and the political appointees extends below Pruitt’s level. For example, agency experts were dismayed when new rules governing the chemical industry were shaped by a deputy assistant who had been a lobbyist for the industry until her appointment.

Hostility to science begins at the top. Trump once called climate change a Chinese hoax, and the White House has refused to discuss whether he’s changed his mind. He has left many key White House science and technology unfilled, and the few appointees do not regularly participate in his briefings (unlike Obama’s practice). And don’t forget the budget Trump proposed to Congress, which featured the following:

  • EPA’s research on air, climate, energy (EPA) would be cut 50% (to $46 million) Overall, EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) would be cut $223 million (roughly half)
  • $900 million cut from DOE’s Office of Science. Eliminates ARPA-E program.
  • NOAA – $250 million cut in programs supporting “coastal and marine management, research, and education including Sea Grant.”
  • NASA — $102 million cut in funding for earth science program, terminating four missions relating to climate change.

This is not to mention the massive proposed cuts to research at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Maybe this will all appeal to the base – after all, a recent poll shows that in the past two years there’s been a huge shift in Republican views about the value of higher education, with a majority now viewing colleges and universities as more harmful than beneficial to society.

President Trump gave a speech recently calling for a no-holds-barred defense of Western values. It’s beginning to look like his Administration doesn’t consider the creation and transmission of knowledge as part of what the West stands for – or American greatness.

The Founding Fathers would have been shocked at this betrayal of their values. Thomas Jefferson’s passion for science is well-known, but he wasn’t alone.  In the very first annual presidential address to Congress, George Washington had this to say:”There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”

In this as in many other respects, Donald Trump is no George Washington.

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Reader Comments

6 Replies to “Escalating the War on Science”

  1. Pruitt is making a shrewd appeal to popular opinion to overrule scientific consensus. Holmes’s “marketplace of ideas” contemplated this – Holmes committed to accept the result of the competition of ideas in popular opinion even if it meant US conversion to a dictatorship of the proletariat. Your casebook covers this, Dan!

    Here’s a slightly different take on the question — I must admit that might commitment to democratic self rule is stronger than my commitment to the administrative state — as uncomfortable as it makes me on this issue.

    http://www.acoel.org/post/2017/07/19/HOW-DOES-A-DEMOCRACY-DECIDE-SCIENTIFIC-FACTS-SCOTT-PRUITT%E2%80%99S-RED-TEAMBLUE-TEAM-CLIMATE-REALITY-SHOW.aspx

    1. Dan, we appear to be producing another case study about leaders who arrogantly refuse to learn from the lessons of history as our political (both parties) and intellectual establishments marginalize the working class at our increasing peril.

  2. Dan implores us to:
    “…Put aside the fact that the science is settled at this point….”

    Dear Dan,
    Secretary Pruitt is serving the public interest by trying to educate the public about this complex issue. We cannot simply put aside the fact that there are valid and reasonable disagreements over whether or not the science is settled.

    We believe that climate is driven by a number of complex physical, chemical and electrical interactions within the global atmosphere, oceans and land. Carbon dioxide is a trace gas whose role is minor and insignificant when compared to water vapor, solar radiation, fluctuations in the earth’s orbit and tilt, and other natural factors.

    The science is far from settled, it is erroneous to jump to conclusions about carbon dioxide.

  3. Three, of the many, history lessons that have been most arrogantly marginalized at our increasing peril are:

    1) Eisenhower’s grave warning in his 1961 Farewell Address:

    “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.”

    2) Richard Hofstadler’s 1963 conclusion (reconfirmed in 2013 interview by Nicholas Dirks):

    “—- so many intellectuals don’t want to take on the sort of complications and impurities that come with being public —-”

    3) Will and Ariel Durant’s 1968 “The Lessons of History” conclusion:

    “When the group or a civilization declines, it is through no mystic limitation of a corporate life, but through the failures of its political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenges of change.”

    So now we have Trump to deal with.

      1. No wonder we are losing the war against global warming, we marginalize the public, we can’t communicate outside our Ivory Towers, and we won’t cooperate with each other.

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Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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