How the Trump Administration and Congress Should Use Science to Govern

This blog is a guest post by Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The original post ran here on November 30, 2016.

The election of Donald Trump raises many questions about the future role of science and evidence in policy making. Many of us are deeply troubled that some transition team memberssenior administration officials and people nominated to head up federal agencies have a history of attacking scientists and misrepresenting science.

We’re concerned as well that an emboldened Congress may attempt to pass legislation that cuts science out of existing public health and environmental laws, and cut funding for research critical to understand our changing planet – putting at risk the health and well-being of Americans and people around the world.

Across the major issues that confront us—from disease outbreaks to climate change to food safety to cybersecurity—people benefit when our nation’s policies are informed by scientific knowledge unfettered by inappropriate political or corporate interference.

That is why, in this moment, it is essential for scientists across our nation and across disciplines and institutions to lay out our community’s expectations for how President-elect Trump and Congress should use science to govern.

And that is why I am proud to join with more than 2300 other scientists across all fifty states in signing onto an open letter to President-elect Trump and the 115th Congress, urging them to set a high and sturdy bar for integrity, transparency and independence in using science to inform our nation’s policies.

Among our signers are 22 Nobel Laureates as well as leading scientists who have provided high quality, independent scientific counsel to both Republican and Democratic Presidents for decades. We are scientists in government agencies, universities, private industry and non-governmental organizations. We are physicists, social scientists, chemists, earth scientists, biologists, health scientists and more.

Together, we are calling on the incoming Administration and Congress to:

  • Appoint officials to lead federal agencies who have a unvarnished track record of respecting science as a key input into policy-making;
  • Ensure that federal agencies encourage and welcome scientists regardless of religious background, race, gender or sexual orientation.
  • Ensure that federal scientists are able to conduct their work without political or private-sector interference, freely communicate their findings to Congress, the public and scientific colleagues and be able to disclose any censorship of or other abuses of science without fear of retaliation; and
  • Provide resources sufficient for scientists to conduct policy-relevant research in the public interest

We make clear what is at stake. Without investments in science in the public interest and policies that draw upon scientific evidence, the letter states, “children will be more vulnerable to lead poisoning, more people will be exposed to unsafe drugs and medical devices, and we will be less prepared to limit the impacts of increasing extreme weather and rising seas.”

We intend this statement to give members of the incoming administration and Congress a clear understanding of the standards we will hold them to; to give journalists and citizens across the nation our take on what to look out for; and build upon and extend related calls for the Trump administration to name a nationally respected science advisor.

The text of the letter is below. If you are a scientist and share our views, please join us. You can add your name to the statement here.

 

An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump and the 115th Congress

Scientific knowledge has played a critical role in making the United States a powerful and prosperous nation and improving the health and well-being of Americans and people around the world. From disease outbreaks to climate change to national security to technology innovation, people benefit when our nation’s policies are informed by science unfettered by inappropriate political or corporate influence.

To build on this legacy and extend the benefits of science to all people, including Americans who have been left behind, the federal government must support and rely on science as a key input for crafting public policy. Policy makers and the public alike require access to high-quality scientific information to serve the public interest. There are several actions Congress and the Trump administration should take to strengthen the role that science plays in policy making.

First, creating a strong and open culture of science begins at the top. Federal agencies should be led by officials with demonstrated track records of respecting science as a critical component of decision making. Further, recognizing that diversity makes science stronger, administration officials should welcome and encourage all scientists regardless of religious background, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Second, Congress and the Trump administration should ensure our nation’s bedrock public health and environmental laws—such as the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act—retain a strong scientific foundation, and that agencies are able to freely collect and draw upon scientific data to effectively carry out statutory responsibilities established by these laws. They should also safeguard the independence of those outside the government who provide scientific advice.

Third, Congress and the Trump administration should adhere to high standards of scientific integrity and independence in responding to current and emerging public health and environmental threats. Decision makers and the public need to know what the best-available scientific evidence is, not what vested interests might wish it to be. Federally funded scientists must be able to develop and share their findings free from censorship or manipulation based on politics or ideology. These scientists should, without fear of reprisal or retaliation, have the freedom and responsibility to:

  • conduct their work without political or private-sector interference
  • candidly communicate their findings to Congress, the public, and their scientific peers
  • publish their work and participate meaningfully in the scientific community
  • disclose misrepresentation, censorship, and other abuses of science
  • ensure that scientific and technical information coming from the government is accurate

Finally, Congress and the Trump administration should provide adequate resources to enable scientists to conduct research in the public interest and effectively and transparently carry out their agencies’ missions. The consequences are real: without this investment, children will be more vulnerable to lead poisoning, more people will be exposed to unsafe drugs and medical devices, and we will be less prepared to limit the impacts of increasing extreme weather and rising seas.

These steps are necessary to create a thriving scientific enterprise that will strengthen our democracy and bring the full fruits of science to all Americans and the world. The scientific community is fully prepared to constructively engage with and closely monitor the actions of the Trump administration and Congress. We will continue to champion efforts that strengthen the role of science in policy making and stand ready to hold accountable any who might seek to undermine it.

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