Donald Trump and supporters within his administration “have been waging what amounts to a war on science,” the New York Times charges, citing a litany of blows to America’s research capacity. Meanwhile, the Canadian government is discovering how long-lasting the consequences of cutting science funding can be.
The Trump administration has systematically been “appointing people with few scientific credentials to key positions, defunding programs that could lead to a cleaner and safer environment and a healthier population and, most ominously, censoring scientific inquiry that could inform the public and government policy,” the Times asserts in an editorial. “In nearly every case, the principal motive seemed the same: to serve commercial interests whose profitability could be affected by health and safety rules.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt has sacked “dozens of members on the EPA’s scientific advisory boards,” in some cases replacing them with individuals “who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” the Times says, citing a department spokesperson. Another Trump appointee to the same agency has pledged “to eliminate the ‘double C-word,’ meaning ‘climate change,’ from research grant solicitations.”
Websites maintained by the Department of Energy have dropped mentions of clean or new energy, and “cut links to clean or renewable energy initiatives and programs.” Trump’s current budget proposal, meanwhile, “would eliminate US$250 million for [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s] coastal research programs that prepare communities for rising seas and worsening storms.”
The tactics bear comparison to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s purges of Canadian public science agencies, gagging of researchers and redirection of funding from basic science to commercial interests. National Observer points out the damage from those politically-motivated cuts has proven long-lasting, reporting that “the Trudeau government continues to struggle in its efforts to rebuild what was lost during the Harper era.”
Harper’s anti-science policies “resulted in a decline in climate research support of nearly 50% nationwide,” said Canadian Climate Forum Chair Thomas Pedersen, a University of Victoria earth science professor. “The academic community has yet to recover.”
Other scientists say the research community still lacks the stable environment it needs for long-term climate research.
“Budgets for seven key projects” that had been temporarily restored by the Harper government under public pressure, “including the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL)—arguably the most important Arctic research lab in the world,” are now set to expire unless the Liberal government acts, the Observer writes.
“There does seem to be a strong element of history repeating itself here,” said Dalhousie University physicist James Drummond, who has led research at the PEARL.