Tuesday 21st February, 2017
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What does Trump win mean for science?

What does Trump win mean for science?

President-elect Donald Trump did not express many views about science and innovation on the cam­paign trail. But there are some clues to his positions on key is­sues.
Since Tuesday, many scien­tists have been laying out their concerns about the future of the US research community under a Trump administration.
Before the election, the non-profit organisation Science De­bate asked the main candidates to outline their positions on dif­ferent scientific points.
Mr. Trump’s vision for inno­vation in the country that cur­rently spends most in the world on research and development reflects his businessman’s per­spective.
“Innovation has always been one of the great by-products of free market systems. Entrepre­neurs have always found entries into markets by giving consum­ers more options for the prod­ucts they desire,” he explained.
But some in the scientific community are fearful about funding for basic research - fun­damental science aimed at bet­tering our understanding of the world around us.
This is distinct from applied research, which is concerned with practical applications of science driven, for example, by commercial considerations.
And there are concerns that Mr. Trump’s professed stance on immigration will stymie Ameri­can universities’ ability to attract the best scientific talent from around the world.
Robin Bell, the incoming president of the American Geophysical Union, told the Washington Post newspaper: “There’s a fear that the scientific infrastructure in the US is going to be on its knees,” adding: “Ev­erything from funding to being able to attract the global leaders we need to do basic science re­search.”
In his responses to Science Debate, Mr. Trump does say that the federal government should “encourage innovation in the areas of space exploration and investment in research and development across the broad landscape of academia”.
He acknowledges that scien­tific advances “do require long-term investment”, but he also raises the possibility of cuts, say­ing: “There are increasing de­mands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget”.
And he adds: “We should also bring together stakeholders and examine what the priorities ought to be for the nation.”
It is the uncertain detail of this potential shift in priorities that some scientists fear.
Some researchers feel that Mr Trump’s statements about climate change betray a disre­gard for the scientific method that does not augur well for other research areas under his administration.
The president-elect has called global warming a “hoax” and vowed to “cancel” the Paris agreement, which came into force earlier this month.
Last year, Mr Trump did briefly comment on the Na­tional Institutes of Health (NIH), which oversees some $30bn of medical research each year.
Right-wing talk show host Michael Savage asked the then-presidential candidate whether he would consider appointing him to head the NIH.
Mr Trump answered: “I think that’s great,” adding: “You know you’d get common sense if that were the case, that I can tell you, because I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible.”
Whether this brief, presum­ably off-the-cuff exchange gives any serious insight into Mr. Trump’s position on biomedi­cal research is unclear.
Responding to a Science Debate question about federal research for public health, Mr. Trump replied: “In a time of limited resources, one must ensure that the nation is get­ting the greatest bang for the buck. We cannot simply throw money at these institutions and assume that the nation will be well served.”
He added: “What we ought to focus on is assessing where we need to be as a nation and then applying resources to those areas where we need the most work.”
However, there seemed to be few caveats to Mr Trump’s en­thusiasm for space exploration.
“Space exploration has given so much to America, including tremendous pride in our scien­tific and engineering prowess. A strong space program will encourage our children to seek STEM educational outcomes,” he said.
But what exactly that will mean for the balance of distinct Nasa programmes, such as hu­man spaceflight, robotic explo­ration and Earth observation, remains unsettled.
Earth observation - with its links to climate change science - suffered cuts under President George W Bush, and experts in that field will be waiting to see whether that is repeated under this administration.
In the last weeks of the cam­paign, Mr. Trump appointed Robert Walker, a former con­gressman, to draw up a space policy. In Space News, Mr. Walker outlined nine aspects of the plan.
And the President-elect’s Republican ally Newt Gingrich - who has been tipped for a top job in the new administration - has been outspoken about what the US space agency should and shouldn’t be doing.
Many uncertainties remain about Mr. Trump’s attitude towards science. Yet some re­searchers are positive about their prospects over the next four years.
Stanley Young, assistant di­rector for bioinformatics at the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, told Nature News: “The popular impression I get is Clinton would go forward with business as usual and Trump is likely to upset things a bit. There’s a lot that could be improved in science.” 

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