The Science of President Trump

Mar 19, 2016

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedea

By Natalie Jacewicz

Just about every topic, from eminent domain to “hand” size, has scuttled onto the debate stage this election cycle. But the presidential candidates have uttered little about science policy

“It’s been conspicuous by its absence,” says Dr. Peter J. Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Nonetheless, the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, has made public remarks that give voters a glimpse into what some of his scientific policies might be. We asked some science and policy experts to discuss Trump’s stances, and what that could mean for Americans in the future.

Go slow on climate action: Trump has tweeted that climate change is a Chinese-driven hoax, though he later called the Tweet a joke. In an interview with Fox and Friends, he called climate change “just a very, very expensive form of tax” and “very hard on business.”

Sizing up the science: “There’s been a misperception that either you get a good economy or you protect the environment,” says Peter LaPuma, an associate professor in the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

LaPuma, who worked as a sustainable energy consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton before joining George Washington, says many companies have found that sustainable practices actually boost their bottom lines. For example, IT companies like Apple have begun using renewable energy to power their data centers, a switch that often saves money because the cost of energy sources like solar has dropped so much.

Immediate action to combat climate change has immediate benefits, according to LaPuma. “Climate change is not just polar bears 100 years from now,” he says. Replacing a coal-fired power plant with a solar farm can benefit health immediately, as well as clearing the air for better views of the country’s natural landscape.

Cut the EPA: Trump has said he would cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and return environmental protection responsibilities to the states. He claims the agency hurts business, and in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, called the EPA “the laughingstock of the world.”

Sizing up the science: “There would be serious repercussions” by 2020 if the EPA were severely downsized or abolished, according to Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy professor Neal F. Lane, who directed the National Science Foundation and later the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Clinton.

Lane says the EPA plays a critical role in protecting clean air and drinking water, and that its regulations have helped rehabilitate polluted water bodies like Lake Erie, which was pronounced “dead” in the 1960s. “This is not just a bunch of regulators hugging trees,” he adds. Though states do have a part to play in regulation, the country needs a federal regulating body, according to Lane, because contaminated water and air can cross state borders.

That’s not to say citizens shouldn’t weigh in on the agency’s proposed rules. “There will always be a healthy debate between the private sector and the federal government on these regulations,” says Lane. For this reason, he said, the EPA solicits public comment before making new rules.

If Congress supported Trump in slashing funds for the EPA or changing the law to remove the agency’s power to regulate, Lane predicts there would be an outcry from overwhelmed governors and “reasonable people who care about their families, their children and their life style.”

Alter vaccination schedules to avoid autism: Trump says he favors vaccines, but giving children smaller doses over a longer period of time. He has blamed vaccines for causing autism in children.

Sizing up the science: “I remember wanting to throw something at the TV when I heard it,” Hotez says of Trump’s debate statement linking vaccinations and autism.

Hotez, who develops vaccinations and also has a daughter with autism, says studies have found no link between autism and vaccination. “The anti-vaxxers keep moving the goalposts,” he says. After scientific studies debunked accusations against specific vaccinations, Hotez says those against vaccinations started a different fad: arguing to change the vaccination schedule to protect children.

But infants’ immune systems face up to hundreds of new antigens every day, according to Hotez. Adding a few more in the form of a vaccination does not harm infants. He says changing the FDA’s approved vaccination schedule without clinical testing about immune response could decrease vaccines’ efficacy.

To imagine what a future with fewer or less effective vaccines might look like, Hotez suggests voters think of California’s recent outbreak of measles, a true threat to children’s health. “It’s one of the great killers of children in the world,” he says. “One hundred thousand children die every year of measles.”

Defund Planned Parenthood: Although Trump says Planned Parenthood does a lot of good for women’s health, he says he would defund its clinics because of their abortion services.

Sizing up the science: “The good thing is that he doesn’t think [Planned Parenthood] is evil,” says Amy Tsui, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. But, she says, no federal funding has gone to abortion since the Hyde Amendment of 1976 (though Medicaid can fund abortion in the case of rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother’s life).

If Trump defunds all Planned Parenthood clinics, even those that don’t perform abortions, then he’ll be “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” according to Tsui. She says Planned Parenthood’s low-cost care and urban clinic locations, helps low-income women in particular.

In fact, Leighton Ku, Director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University, says that decreased access to Planned Parenthood’s contraception services could increase the rate of unwanted pregnancies and possibly cause a spike in abortions.


11 comments on “The Science of President Trump

  • Then again, even a scientific cretin like GWB did authorise the Mars exploration Programme. Proof that cretin or genius, once in the White House, you actually have very little control over anything.
    In the UK, I have arrived at the conclusion that the only difference between our two worst Prime Ministers of the last half century (Thatcher & Blair) is in the rhetoric. Blair was probably the more dangerous because he managed not to look and act demented all the time. He paid the electorate the courtesy of wiping the rabid foam from his mouth before appearing in public.

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  • Moving from science to expert opinion on economics:-

    Donald Trump winning the US presidency is considered one of the top 10 risks facing the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

    The research firm warns he could disrupt the global economy and heighten political and security risks in the US.

    However, it does not expect Mr Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton who it sees as “his most likely Democratic contender”.

    He is rated as riskier than Britain leaving the European Union or an armed clash in the South China Sea.

    Thus far Mr Trump has given very few details of his policies – and these tend to be prone to constant revision,” the EIU said in its global risk assessment, which looks at impact and probability.

    The EIU ranking uses a scale of one to 25, with Mr Trump garnering a rating of 12, the same level of risk as “the rising threat of jihadi terrorism destabilising the global economy“.

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  • Who in their right mind believes in the predictions of economists?. There are better reasons than economics for not electing this neo-fascist megalomaniac. I’d rather lose a bit of loose change than my will to live. Modern politics is more about emotions than reason and I doubt I have the emotional strength to endure a Trump Presidency, even from the other side of the Atlantic.

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  • “Once in the White House, you actually have very little control over anything”
    So the president has no influence in the administration of his country and it’s irrelevant who wins the elections? Is that what you’re saying?
    Well, you just showed the world how little you know about politics.

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  • Lucio. Explain how there are so few “reforming” presidents, and so many that support the banks, oil, the military and whatever vested interest? Why do those we invest hope in invariably disappoint with a lack of positive achievements? Has any US President since FDR really positively changed anything? I would suggest that if you expect an elected representative to achieve anything in a mass democracy, then it is you who might benefit from a refresher in history and politics. Or just assume I’m a dull old cynic and enjoy the comforts of some sort of quasi-religious received wisdom.
    Sorry, I hope that didn’t seem too strident

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  • @philoctetes #1

    GWB did authorise the Mars exploration Programme. Proof that cretin or genius, once in the White House, you actually have very little control over anything.

    And defunded a NASA spacecraft to monitor climate change, a move seen as political, it was Al Gore’s inconvenient satellite.

    Maybe not the President, but the Administration certainly has a lot of control over major things, like who to invade next. Or not.

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  • Unless, of course, the entire Administration is a puppet show installed by the shadowy regime of lizard overlords who actually control everything from behind the scenes. Which, now I come to think about it, is one possible Explanation that fits the known facts…..

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  • OHooligan,
    Yes, the Bush Mars initiative is a counter to my sweeping generalisation. Is this a case of a stupid man doing a wise thing. Even Hitler had one positive achievement: the Autobahen (though modern traffic problems even place that into a more ambiguous context).
    Another example of a President doing something worthy (in contradiction to my argument that no such thing happened since FDR) and of a “bad” man doing a “good” thing, is LBJ’s Civil Rights Legislation, who would have thought that of a man from the Deep South Democrat Caucus?

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  • I see the self-contradictory idiotic Trump babblings continue!

    Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, if the procedure became illegal.

    His initial comments made during a town hall event with cable network MSNBC sparked a wave of criticism.

    However, Mr Trump quickly reversed his position, saying only the person who performed the abortion should be punished.

    But he maintained: “My position has not changed.

    The front-runner supports a ban on abortions, with certain exceptions.

    Abortion has been legal in the United States since 1973 after a landmark Supreme Court ruling.

    Only the high court or a constitutional amendment has the power to overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal.

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