How a Washington ‘war on science’ could imperil my career

Jan 17, 2017

By Sarah Whitlock

PITTSBURGH – I meet science skeptics everywhere.

Buses, planes, supermarkets — all are packed with people eager to share their doubts that GMOs are safe and that climate change is real, even more so when they find out I’m a scientist.

For the most part, I’ve shrugged off their skepticism. I’m in my first year as a graduate student in the biomedical sciences in Pittsburgh. I’ve assumed that people who ignore well-established science wouldn’t be in position to influence public policy and make decisions that could affect us all.

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14 comments on “How a Washington ‘war on science’ could imperil my career

  • Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I fear we are entering a time when our own present day science and technology qualifies. Not the technology of some advanced alien civilization, not that of our far future, but today’s earthly every day technology.
    With a population that cannot tell science based on fact from magic, small wonder that magic aka pseudo-science is believed in as much as real science!

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  • Chris #1
    Jan 18, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Speaking of deep insight from science fiction writers, Arkrid Sandwich @ #142, on the link, makes a good point – Re Trump and the science deniers – with an analogy to Douglas Adams in the HHGTTG. and the products of the products of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation!

    “It is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all. . . . . . – their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws.”

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  • People always fear what they don’t understand. I would suggest, therefore, there must be an awful lot Donald Trump doesn’t understand. Especially when it comes to science and technology.

    Hence he has gone into denial by surrounding himself with those he hopes know even less than him. Although we are talking about science here I suspect his ignorance will branch into all other areas of government including economics, security and foreign policy.

    There is absolutely no chance of him becoming educated enough to properly discharge the office of POTUS. This may play out in a manner where he has to give up. Or does something so daft he ends up being removed from office.

    As I’ve said before, I just hope he doesn’t drag everyone else down with him.

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  • The problem is that scientists are low level. Above you, there is a boss that has no interest in science and just wants a product to make a profit. News agency are also vulture who hunt for bad news. If you have bad news, they want to publish it.
    As for the boss, he shouldn’t be there. It is the research scientist that should be the boss.

    I have the same situation at work. We do technical support. We do the hard and nasty work. Above us, there is the manager who’s job is to “manage”. He interviews and hires. Checks your job. But how can you evaluate someone when you have no technology background?

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  • vrej #4
    Jan 19, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    The problem is that scientists are low level. Above you, there is a boss that has no interest in science and just wants a product to make a profit.

    I think this is well illustrated in the contrast of levels of success between companies which are owned and run by people prioritising scientific expertise, and those run by others who lack vision!
    Thriving biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms share philosophies when it comes to driving innovation, encouraging professional development, and respecting employees’ work–life boundaries.
    These employers know that strategic alliances should serve to keep them on the cutting edge, and that scientists should be given the space, freedom, and resources to explore their riskiest and most creative ideas.
    They place a high priority on the professional growth of their scientists, and provide them with opportunities to add technical skills and expand leadership responsibilities.

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  • This should “fix” all those science based data gathering monitoring departments and regulatory bodies – and clear the way for more “alternative facts”!

    The actions, signed Monday at the White House, implement a federal employee hiring freeze, formally withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and reinstate a GOP-backed policy regarding foreign aid and abortion funding.

    A memorandum outlining the federal hiring freeze states that “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances.”

    Trump noted that his long-promised action to shrink the federal government would not apply to the American military.

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  • @OP – How a Washington ‘war on science’ could imperil my career

    . . . .and the careers of any federally employed scientists or competent administrators!

    Meanwhile, a media blackout has been introduced at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to the Associated Press news agency.

    It bans staff from awarding new contracts or posting on any of the agency’s social media accounts,

    This includes a ban on filling vacant posts until Trump gets around to “reviewing” the operations with his plans to cut vast numbers of industrial and public protection regulations!

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    Donald Trump has fired the acting US attorney general after she questioned the legality of his immigration ban.

    Sally Yates, who was appointed by Barack Obama, ordered justice department lawyers not to enforce the president’s executive order.

    A White House statement accused Ms Yates of “betraying” the justice department and being “weak on borders”.

    Mr Trump replaced her with Dana Boente, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

    Mr Boente said he was “honoured to serve President Trump” and immediately directed his department to enforce the controversial order.

    Mr Trump also replaced the acting director of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Daniel Ragsdale, who has been in the post since 20 January. He is the former deputy director.

    No reason was given for Mr Ragsdale’s sacking. He has been replaced by Thomas Homan, the executive associate director of enforcement and removal.

    I think this clearly spells out, that any federal official who offers expert advice which conflicts with Trumpery, will be replaced with compliant yes-men!

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    The US Senate Judiciary Committee is to vote on President Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

    A conservative senator and early backer of Mr Trump, Mr Sessions has been dogged by allegations of racism which overshadowed his confirmation hearings.

    The vote comes a day after the president dismissed Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who questioned the legality of his immigration directive.

    Now we will see if the senate is to carry out its role of scrutiny, or if it is just a rubber stamp for Trump!

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    The White House said on Monday that Sally Yates had “betrayed” the department by refusing to enforce a legal order that was “designed to protect the citizens of the United States”.

    Which is of course “Trump-Speak” for: “gave professional advice which Trump did not like, and followed the law as she understood it”!

    As the country’s top law enforcement official, Yates, who was appointed by Barack Obama, had control over the justice department’s immigration litigation office, which has handled the federal complaints filed against Trump’s order since his bombshell policy was announced on Friday.

    “I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Yates wrote in a letter to justice department lawyers. “At present I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”

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  • It seems that there are admissions about flaws in the Trump Executive order – and the Democrats have been spurred into action!

    Democrats on the US Senate Finance Committee are boycotting votes for two of President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, forcing a postponement.

    They said they wanted more information about the financial activities of health nominee Tom Price and treasury pick Stephen Mnuchin.

    A vote on attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions was also postponed.

    On Monday the acting attorney general was sacked for questioning the legality of Mr Trump’s immigration directive.

    Now, it seems, Democrats could be heeding the anger of their base and taking a more combative posture toward Republicans in general and Mr Trump in particular.
    These politicians likely saw Acting Attorney General Sally Yates become a liberal hero for defying the president on Monday night and are recognising that their party’s anger is a force that could propel their careers or tear them apart.

    This does not bode well for Mr Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, who will be announced on Tuesday night. While Senate Democrats have had to rely on byzantine parliamentary manoeuvres to delay Mr Trump’s cabinet picks, they have a powerful weapon – the filibuster – at their disposal to indefinitely block the president’s high court selection.

    Sen Diane Feinstein criticised his [Sessions] role in Mr Trump’s election campaign and his closeness to the new president during it.

    “It is very difficult to reconcile for me the independence and objectivity necessary for the position of attorney general with the partisanship this nominee has demonstrated,” she said.

    The Democrats’ lengthy speeches extended the hearing into the afternoon, eventually forcing Sen Grassley to postpone the vote until Wednesday.

    If Mr Sessions’ nomination is approved by the judiciary committee, the full Senate – where Republicans hold a 52-48 majority – is expected to vote on it by the end of the week.

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  • Tim Smith #3
    Jan 18, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    People always fear what they don’t understand. I would suggest, therefore, there must be an awful lot Donald Trump doesn’t understand. Especially when it comes to science and technology.

    Hence he has gone into denial by surrounding himself with those he hopes know even less than him. Although we are talking about science here I suspect his ignorance will branch into all other areas of government including economics, security and foreign policy.

    I think events are proving you to be spot-on!

    In this immigration ban fiasco, if Trump had done any basic homework or had any understanding of the laws on immigration, he would have known that visa and green-card holders HAD been thoroughly vetted (sometimes with years of delays for investigations), and he would also have known which countries were sources of terrorists, rather than randomly picking of the citizens of countries whose governments the US does not like!

    The notion that “extreme vetting”, can be done in a last minute stops at airports is just ignorant stupidity!

    If he had any competence as a president, he would not be sacking legal officials for giving legal advice he did not like to hear, – and might even be seeking wider consultation on operational matters!

    His yes-men spouting PR rubbish about “protecting US citizens”, simply illustrates their disingenuous or incompetent approach, which is unable to distinguish ideological objectives, from competent effective actions!

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  • There seems to be a building consensus among international experts on foreign policy!

    European Council President Donald Tusk has called Donald Trump an existential threat to Europe, in an extraordinary attack on the new US President.
    In an open letter delivered to leaders of the 27 member states, Mr Tusk included the new American President as part of a group of “dangerous” challenges facing the bloc, citing Russia, China and radical Islam as other threats.

    He issued a call for “political solidarity” before a summit in Malta later this week, where Europe’s heads of states will gather to discuss the future of the bloc.

    Poland’s former Prime Minister said an assertive China, Russia’s aggressive policy, “terror and anarchy” in the Middle East and “worrying declarations by the new American administration” put the future of Europe in jeopardy.

    “Particularly the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation; with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy,” he wrote.

    “The disintegration of the European Union will not lead to the restoration of some mythical, full sovereignty of its member states, but to their real and factual dependence on the great superpowers: the United States, Russia and China.”

    Many European leaders were categorical in their condemnation of the suspension of immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and of refugee resettlement.

    However, Ms May was criticised for her slow response to the events.

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