Science lessons for the next president

Oct 24, 2016

By David Malakoff and Jeffrey Mervis

George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election after promising to be a “compassionate conservative” who would cut taxes, promote education, and boost the economy. His presidency, however, soon became dominated by the 2001 terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But history will note that two science-focused events bracketed the 9/11 attacks. A month earlier, Bush wrestled with whether to allow federal funding for research involving stem cells taken from human embryos. And just a week after the attacks, someone mailed anthrax-filled letters to media outlets and politicians, killing five people and prompting the White House to launch a massive effort to improve bioterror defenses.

New presidents typically move into the White House neither expecting to spend much time on such arcane technical issues, nor prepared to. But history shows that, ready or not, every president ends up grappling with a host of science-related policy issues or crises (see historical timeline below).

President Gerald Ford, for instance, spent much of 1976 dogged by what the media dubbed the swine flu fiasco. After a new strain of the H1N1 swine flu virus appeared in soldiers, public health experts urged a massive vaccination campaign. Some 40 million Americans got the vaccine, but the effort was plagued by missteps, and the flu turned out to be less dangerous than believed. Some analysts believe the episode contributed to Ford’s loss to Jimmy Carter that year.


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10 comments on “Science lessons for the next president

  • President Gerald Ford, for instance, spent much of 1976 dogged by what the media dubbed the swine flu fiasco. After a new strain of the H1N1 swine flu virus appeared in soldiers, public health experts urged a massive vaccination campaign. Some 40 million Americans got the vaccine, but the effort was plagued by missteps, and the flu turned out to be less dangerous than believed.

    When large scale pre-emptive action is taken for events which happen to turn out less serious than anticipated, (as say when a hurricane veers away and misses an evacuated coastal city), there will always be “smart Alecs” who will turn around with hindsight and say, “There! – we shouldn’t listen to these alarmists”!

    Of course when the next hurricane comes, and they “know better”, so decide to so ride it out barricaded in cellars, the 25 foot the tidal surge comes as somewhat of a surprise!



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  • Presidents don’t need to be overly scientifically literate to do their job as they have access to those who are.

    What is needed is a lesson in history. Ignore the results of scientific research for the sake of a 4 year tenancy and reap the rewards as your legacy to the world.

    Trump has demonstrated (not saying proved because proof really wasn’t required) that appalling to ignorance can win support. His supporters demonstrate that ignorance reaches plague levels when they’re not quarantined.

    What America needs is science lessons for the voters.



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  • Header :

    “Science lessons for the next president”

    …Uh…Am I reading that right ?…Science lessons for the next president ??

    HAH !!

    First rule of thumb is for the American electorate to elect a science literate president.

    Nope. Not since Kennedy. And from the way it’s looking now…Never again.



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  • To #6:

    Presidents don’t need to be overly scientifically literate to do their
    job as they have access to those who are.

    I don’t quite agree on that one because the president can consult with anyone he/she chooses.

    What America needs is science lessons for the voters.

    Yes! What we need in the US is an educated nation to question all authorities intelligently. Especially in the field of human ecology.



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  • cbrown #9
    Nov 1, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Presidents don’t need to be overly scientifically literate to do their
    job as they have access to those who are.

    I don’t quite agree on that one because the president can consult with anyone he/she chooses.

    Unfortunately as you say, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!

    We had better hope the next president is not Trump, because he “knows” ALL of the answers – NONE of science, and NONE of the questions, and will choose to consult whoever will tell him what he likes to hear!



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