The imminent destruction of American science


A little history lesson: the United States has not always been a major player in scientific research. In fact, Europe has a longer research tradition, and before WWII the US was looked upon as a bucolic place that had the advantages of a great deal of natural resources, but with only scattered centers of academic excellence, and most of the research was done by the independently wealthy at private colleges. I remember reading about Edwin Conklin, a big name developmental biologist at the turn of the last century, and being rather surprised that all of his work at marine stations was paid for out of his own pocket, a fact of life that was taken entirely for granted at the time.

All the big state colleges that are the backbone of our research efforts now were founded as either agricultural schools or normal, or teaching, schools. They were not intended to be major research centers. You’d go to State U to learn how to farm, or in a few place, mine, or how to become a public school teacher. In my grandparents’ day, that was the default: you’d scrimp and save to send the oldest son to college to prepare him to inherit the family farm, and maybe you’d send the oldest daughter off to learn to be the local school marm.

That all changed with WWII and the work of Vannevar Bush, who saw an opportunity to harness the potential brain power of the country. You don’t think Europe hoped for our entry into the war because we’d bring in high tech wonder weapons, do you? We were a big reserve of manpower for cannon fodder and iron for ships and artillery. The Brits (and the Germans) were the eggheads. Bush was the man who transformed everything in this country, providing resources through the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development to fund innovative science and cultivate an atmosphere that valued research at our universities. Everything that we appreciate about American science flowed out of the investment of federal funds in the research enterprise via the OSRD, which eventually metamorphosed into the National Science Foundation, the major source of basic research funding. (The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is also huge, but as you might guess from the name has more of an applied research focus on biomedical research, although plenty of basic research also gets smuggled in).

A chill should run down your spine when Trump’s pick for the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, suggests that … what might be the best question: do we really need government funded research at all. The context of that question was a rambling post in which he raised a whole lot of, to his mind, unanswered questions about the Zika virus.

Brazil’s microcephaly epidemic continues to pose a mystery — if Zika is the culprit, why are there no similar epidemics in countries also hit hard by the virus? In Brazil, the microcephaly rate soared with more than 1,500 confirmed cases. But in Colombia, a recent study of nearly 12,000 pregnant women infected with Zika found zero microcephaly cases. If Zika is to blame for microcephaly, where are the missing cases? According to a new report from the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), the number of missing cases in Colombia and elsewhere raises serious questions about the assumed connection between Zika and microcephaly.

He was wrong about just about everything, as the linked article explains, but still what strikes me is that he’s pointing out all these difficulties, and raising all these questions (see those question marks? Scientists are the people who bring up those question marks and then try to answer them), and he’s then using the questions as a reason to avoid funding the process of resolving them. This is a man who doesn’t understand the whole point of research, to the point that he considers the possibility of not funding it at all. He’d like to roll back American science to the 1920s.

I can tell you personally what that would be like: you’d reduce American science to places like my lab. I’ve worked at Research 1 universities, and this is a whole ‘nother animal. I have no federal funding — a few of my colleagues do get small NSF grants now and then, but it’s hard to persuade the agencies to support small schools, especially when grant money is incredibly tight. I have a tiny lab space that also does double-duty as a class lab when I teach small upper level courses (many of my colleagues across the country will be jealous: they have no lab of their own, but do have classroom space that can do double-duty as a research lab when they aren’t teaching). I keep up with small supplies — pipettes, paper towels, that sort of thing — with maintenance money from the department.

My chief research tool, a microscope, was purchased with a state grant, part of the building fund that paid for renovations of the old science building and construction of a new wing. It isn’t really my scope; it’s a shared resource for all of the biology faculty that just happens to be kept in my lab.

I’ve been lucky in that I do have an independent, but small, revenue stream. All the additional equipment in my lab, like my digital camera system and animal maintenance stuff, is paid for with…blogging money! Yes, real student research is being supported by those obnoxious ads you see springing up around here. Now try to imagine a world-class biology research unit (not mine) with dozens of grad students and a gang of post-docs and a couple of technicians and the latest, cutting edge research tools that burn through reagents that cost more than my annual salary trying to support themselves by creating a popular blog and sprinkling it with ads for the latest fad food that will help you lose weight.

That isn’t going to happen.

The kinds of research I can do are limited. The latest project is one that Edwin Conklin would have understood perfectly in 1905, using tools that would have been considered high-tech in 1978, but I think we’ll be able to eke out a little bit of useful data, a tiny contribution to the body of evidence. My main contribution is that I can teach students to think like scientists, even with our limited resources, so they can go off to research careers at bigger places…which would cease to exist if Mick Mulvaney had his way.

I am not complaining about my situation. This is actually what I wanted, a place where I could focus on teaching, didn’t have to spend all my time writing hard-to-get grants, and could still work independently in a small lab. It’s perfect for me. It is not at all ideal if you want a national source of advanced research. You’re just going to have a lot of people like me training eager, ambitious kids for possibilities that you’ve eliminated.

That’s not the worst of it.

Suddenly, the federal government has decreed that USDA scientists may not talk about their work in public. This is antithetical to the whole point of doing science!

The EPA has frozen all of its grants. Environmental scientists have also been told they can’t communicate with the public.

The CDC has pre-emptively canceled a climate change meeting. Why? I suspect they’re battening down the hatches, preparing for some lean years, and investing in a meeting that will just get canceled by the administration is an unwise choice.

The National Park Service is being censored. Badlands National Park has had tweets deleted that discussed the evidence for climate change. “Rogue” elements of the park service have resorted to disseminating information under aliases.

All this in just the first four days of the Trump regime taking office. It takes far less time to demolish an institution than it does to build one up. Vannevar Bush’s contributions took decades to bear fruit, and Trump is determined to burn them all down in days.

And taking a wrecking crew to science isn’t even the worst thing he has done! He aims to wreck public education with the appointment of Betsy DeVos — even my small lab becomes pointless if that stream of eager, ambitious students dries up. Congress is busily trying to prohibit all family planning. How’s this for irony?

Making it (Hyde) permanent is not just important for the moral fiber — fabric of our country, but you’ll see millions more lives saved by us taking this important action, House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, told reporters Tuesday.

I remember Henry Hyde, corrupt Catholic, philanderer and adulterer. That his name is invoked at the same time as the words “moral fiber” is amazing hypocrisy.

So, in this time of turmoil, when injustice rules and inequity thrives, when all is to be subordinated to the selfish greed of a small number of extremely wealthy white people, I fear that the loss of American science is a tiny problem and will be lost in the chaos. It is shaping up to be an early casualty, though, and when faced with a thousand losses, triage is hard, and terrifying. We are looking at devastating losses to humanity on all fronts, thanks to the fact that we have elected an incompetent demagogue to lead the country, who is propped up by a political party that has become a garbage fire of epic proportions.

We’re doomed.

But we need to keep fighting for everything, every step of the way. A Scientist’s March on Washington is being organized. I don’t think it can have the impact of the Women’s March — we don’t have the numbers — but maybe if it’s a march intended to focus on one-on-one lobbying with congress, and to getting the press engaged, it can help.

Ultimately, though, the only thing that’s going to make a big difference is to depose the tyrant and banish him to a cozy retirement home where he can watch a lot of TV and do no further harm. We also have to basically delete the entire Republican party and grow a new, rational opposition party, one that will give the Democrats an incentive to actually do effective good for a change.


More on the Scientist’s March on Washington — it’s very preliminary, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Comments

  1. handsomemrtoad says

    Regular readers of comments here may or may not remember that earlier when PZ was shouting about Trump and science, I kept saying, don’t panic yet, we don’t really know what he’s gonna do.

    Now we pretty much do know.

    I take back everything I said.

    The indications are pretty strong now that Trump intends to piss away USA’s status as the world’s primary problem-solver, tech-innovator, and hi-tech Mecca brain-draining the rest of the world. Except for our constitutional rights, this is USA’s most precious asset, which has enabled us to win wars and dominate markets for more than half a century.

    He might still surprise us: he might maintain funding for MOST basic science and only stomp the particular fields he does not like.

    But it sure as shingles doesn’t look good.

    Panic, by all means.

  2. Usernames! (╯°□°)╯︵ ʎuʎbosıɯ says

    Before WWII Germany was the seat of hard science (Physics, especially). All the real research papers were published in German, so if one wanted to do that kind of science, it was required to learn the language.

    This all changed with the defeat of the Nazis and the looting—so to speak—of former-Nazi scientists by America and Russia. With the only major power left standing in the West, the language of science likewise shifted to (US) English. Once Americans got their panties in a bunch over Sputnik, tons of cash and resources were plowed into raising up science education in the US.

    With the ascension of St. Ronnie and the collapse of the USSR, there was a backlash against science (and, well, learning). School budgets dried up, government (i.e., non-war) research was cut. No Child Left Behind was a poorly-hidden funnelling of state education $$$ into private testing and curriculum corporations.

    It took only 5 years from the language of science to switch from German to English. It could easily take 5 years for it to switch from English to something else. All it would take is for us to hit that tipping point. Mulvaney and DeVos are the latest in a long line of hacks whose job is to funnel public $$$ into private interests.

    What to do? One thing: check out the Justice (Just Us) Democrats. Their aim is to elect progressives that aren’t beholden to corporate money, so they can actually represent the people.

  3. jacksprocket says

    I don’t think Putin stopped research- but I would be surprised if he told Trump that research is a good idea. A decade’s free march on the USA would be priceless to Russia (at least a decade- it takes a lot longer to build things up again once you’ve knocked them down).

    And they are arresting journalists already:https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jan/24/journalists-charged-felonies-trump-inauguration-unrest. That was Putin’s first step. Next they have mysterious accidents, then they just disappear.

  4. rietpluim says

    I fear that the loss of American science is a tiny problem and will be lost in the chaos.

    Perhaps you’re being ironic, but I think the problem will turn out a lot bigger when you consider all the possible consequences.

  5. says

    #3: Those were DC Metro police who arrested the journalists, so I wouldn’t interpret it as anything but typical bad police behavior. But it’s certainly wise to be worried about the future.

    As for PZ’s post, the lunatics who have taken over the country seem to want to undo the Enlightenment. That isn’t actually possible but they can cause horrible carnage. I’m an NIH-funded researcher and our entire school of public health largely depends on federal funding — and a lot of it is stuff that Republicans don’t like. They don’t want to know about social determinants of health, inequities, health of people they don’t like such as gay men and drug addicts, marketing of drugs for useless or unsafe purposes, hospitals raking in money for useless procedures, and a whole lot else. So yeah, I’m worried.

  6. frog says

    …is to depose the tyrant and banish him to a cozy retirement home…

    1. You’re MUCH kinder than I am. (Though I allow the likelihood that he is suffering some variety of dementia and would adjust my reaction accordingly.)

    2. The list of folks in office who need face-punching is a lot longer than just him.

    2.a. And not just Republicans, which is horrifying. Cowards, so many of them.

  7. Matrim says

    @9, Cervantes

    He’s not crazy at all. Perhaps he has a personality disorder, I’m not qualified to make that assessment, but he’s not insane. What he is is completely and utterly selfish. He doesn’t care if he torpedoes science research, the economy, our environment, or the stability of the world at large so long as it benefits him. While there might be something pathological about that, it’s not crazy.

    Still, crazy or no, things are about to get really, really bad because of him and people like him.

  8. says

    Usernames

    It took only 5 years from the language of science to switch from German to English. It could easily take 5 years for it to switch from English to something else.

    I doubt it. English no longer belongs to the native speakers. Millions of people around the world have made it their own to communicate with each other.
    But yes, Germany in the 30s is an example that comes to mind.

  9. emergence says

    Are there any countries out there that would be willing to accept researchers and students from the US? Depending on whether or not the field I want to go into is impacted, I may be among said students. I can see there being a considerable brain drain away from the US in the coming years.

  10. jrkrideau says

    I wonder how many universities and research organizations around the world are draughting new job-ads and buying space in major US science media?

    I live in Canada and we went through something like this with late and unlamented Harper Cons (Federal Gov’t scientists hiding important research publications in their basements?) but even at its worst, the Cons pretended to support science. And our budgets were minuscule compared to the USA’s.

    And the full horror took several years to evolve. This looks more like Nazi or Stalinist purge. And we all know how successful Lysenkoism was.

    I remember one Federal scientist reporting that she found herself crying on the way to work when she realized with the defeat of the Cons she could publish again.

  11. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Nobody should be surprised that Trump and his henchmen have drunk at the liberturdian trough and are full of “government is bad, private enterprise is the only way to go.” His proposed policies come from the Heritage Foundation, or worse.
    So they see no need for government intervention in basic research. If it is worth doing, industry will fund it *Yeah, Sure, Hey*.
    Anything that might the poor, forget it.

  12. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Dang, last sentence in #15 should read “Anything that might help the poor, forget it.”

  13. jrkrideau says

    #12 Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    English no longer belongs to the native speakers.

    I was thinking of this while walking to the library this morning. I had the thought that three or four hundred years from now, many people would be using English as a common communication means as most of Europe used Latin, long after Latin was not a “spoken” language. Isaac Newton wrote “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica”.

    I even remember reading something years ago about Scottish mercenary officers in, I think the Thirty Years War, only being able to communicate with their employers, etc, in Latin. It was the only shared language.

  14. jrkrideau says

    #13 emergenc
    Are there any countries out there that would be willing to accept researchers and students from the US?

    See my earlier post. People are probably already writing the job ads for established researchers and promising post-docs.

    For a student ? Well, if an undergrad, expect to pay a lot for tuition. Most countries seem to regard foreign students as cash-cows but assuming you’re coming out of the US educational morass before it totally self-destructs, very likely yes.

    As a grad student, probably not too difficult and there should be decent funding. Really probably depends on your research interests and a corresponding prof or lab.

    You might want to look into what China offers. From a few things I’ve read, they seem to be interested in attracting foreign students and may even offer a bursary or scholarship for undergrads.

    And there is the plus of one of the world’s great cuisines.

  15. cartomancer says

    According to my brother (I don’t know whether it’s true or not), the majority of Japan’s scientific research is carried out by private corporations rather than universities. He doesn’t see a problem with that (because in his eyes the Japanese can do no wrong), but I get the feeling that if it is true then the state of Japanese scientific research is significantly less healthy than it should be.

    China, on the other hand, does back scientific research in its universities to a significant extent. I can well imagine China and Europe benefitting quite handsomely from a brain drain of US academics in coming years, if the Trump regime doesn’t collapse in tatters before this year is out.

  16. raven says

    Science is the main driver of our civilization.
    1. It’s responsible for US wealth and leadership of the world.
    The US with 4.8% of the world population spends 1/3 of the world R&D budget.

    2. In the last century, US per capita income went up 6 fold.
    85% of that was due to science.
    US lifespans increased by 30 years. More science.

    All this is well known by the elites and intelligensia.

  17. Doc Bill says

    It appears that Trump is focusing on climate science, first. Not in a good way. The EPA has been instructed to take down its climate science web page.

    America wanted a CEO for president, now they have one. First casualty – ethics. Next, transparency. Next, communication. Next, science. Trump is going to grab everybody by the pussy because as a celebrity, or president, you can do that.

    And the Republicans? They see this as all fun and games. Tally ho!

  18. jrkrideau says

    maybe you’d send the oldest daughter off to learn to be the local school marm
    Did not always work. My mother graduated in Kalamazoo and immediately defected to Detroit.

  19. Matrim says

    @11, Cervantes

    I know it’s vernacular, but it’s one that should be used appropriately. To say he’s crazy takes the responsibility off of him. The implication of being crazy is that he can’t help himself. He’s not crazy, he’s an asshole.

  20. springa73 says

    The US sadly has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism among a large part of the population. I used to wonder what would happen if a President and Congress who were openly hostile to basic scientific research and other intellectual endeavors came to power. Now, we are finding out.

  21. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    Welcome to Harperland. I am, of course, referring to Canada’s previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, a science-hating Christian bozo. During his regime, science funding was cut, scientists were muzzled (particularly as regards global warming) ; and a number of cultural obscenities occurring (For example, museums and other learning institutions were closed down so quickly that centuries of priceless and valuable historical records were actually thrown into dumpsters and carted off to landfills. So those American scientists who are right now archiving and backing up their data are paranoid fantasists, they are responsible and clearheaded.)

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. This is going to be terrible, but you can’t blame it all on Trump. The American public has voted in Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, and it is going to haunt you guys.

    BTW, do you know what I believe is Obama’s greatest failure and mistake? The instant he got into office he should have unleashed the DOJ to hyperaggressively challenge all gerrymandering and vote suppression; he should have made it a cornerstone of his entire Presidency, because fair voting is the key to change. Just my opinion from outside your country.

  22. raven says

    So they see no need for government intervention in basic research. If it is worth doing, industry will fund it *Yeah, Sure, Hey*.

    Which of course, is completely wrong.

    Industrial R&D feeds off of federal basic research.
    Neither one is better or worse.
    They are complementary.

    I doubt that private companies are going to spend too much on a robot probe to Mars or Saturn.

  23. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    Sorry, sorry, that should read, ” . . . . backing up their data are NOT paranoid fantasists . . . “

  24. methuseus says

    #13 emergenc

    Are there any countries out there that would be willing to accept researchers and students from the US?

    Check out Germany. If you get accepted they don’t charge much and some have programs in all English (from what I’ve looked into). I believe France still has good universities, but I’m slightly worried about Marine LePen. I’m sure there are plenty of other European universities that are good, but I haven’t looked into them. You might be interested in UK schools, but the whole Brexit thing scares me, too.

    As for jobs and all that, I’m sure anyone connected to CERN would be excited for new talent that wants to leave the US.

  25. methuseus says

    #25 Hairhead:

    BTW, do you know what I believe is Obama’s greatest failure and mistake? The instant he got into office he should have unleashed the DOJ to hyperaggressively challenge all gerrymandering and vote suppression; he should have made it a cornerstone of his entire Presidency, because fair voting is the key to change. Just my opinion from outside your country.

    I somewhat agree, but I don’t know that the public would have cared enough to get behind that. He did screw up the ACA by not having the public option though. He didn’t seem to really want the public option, unfortunately.

  26. says

    When I first joined my current lab, I toyed with the idea of learning Chinese to surprise my Chinese labmates, but decided I was unlikely to get good enough in the 2 – 3 years I’ll be here to make it worth the effort. I guess I’d better reconsider – at the rate things are going China’s going to be the world leader in science as well as international trade by the time I graduate.

    I’m still trying to decide exactly how f*cked I am – on the one hand, HIV vaccine research is one topic that’s relatively easy to get funding for (at least compared to, say, comparative trypanosome genetics.) On the other hand, the Great Orange Nope apparently includes “antivaccine” in his long and fast-growing list of irrational beliefs, so goodness only knows how long until he appoints Jenny McCarthy as the surgeon general and puts a gag order on the CDC.

  27. emergence says

    @jrkrideau

    I was planning on spending maybe another two years at my state college to earn my B.S., then move on to another university to earn my Masters or PhD. Hopefully Jerry Brown can keep science education afloat in California long enough for me to finish my undergraduate material.

  28. applehead says

    @30, methuseus,

    Agree on both calls for safeguarding electoral integrity. The American system is one of the most corrupted among first-world nations, and slanted against PoCs and the poor.

    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/Eskow20170123

    But in Obama’s defense, what we see on our screens is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. FSM only knows what went down behind closed doors during Obama’s reign. As we’ve seen, the Rethugs weren’t afraid of shutting down the government to stick it to the opposition, they could’ve threatened a lot more to make Obama to water down his projects.

    We’ll learn about all that 50 years down the road after a round of declassification, if ever.

  29. methuseus says

    #33 emergence:

    Hopefully Jerry Brown can keep science education afloat in California long enough for me to finish my undergraduate material.

    Also, why is everyone leaving the last “e” off of my username?

    Apologies for mangling your username. I copied it from another poster who missed the e.

    It may not hurt to apply to overseas colleges just in case. As I said, German universities are fairly cheap, and student visas easy to get. Being in California, you may be safe to finish your undergrad studies there.

  30. says

    @#25, Hairhead, Still Learning at 59

    BTW, do you know what I believe is Obama’s greatest failure and mistake? The instant he got into office he should have unleashed the DOJ to hyperaggressively challenge all gerrymandering and vote suppression; he should have made it a cornerstone of his entire Presidency, because fair voting is the key to change. Just my opinion from outside your country.

    Nope, that should have been item #3 on the agenda.

    Item 1 should have been: break up the too-big-to-fail banks and punish the CEOs of banks and brokerages who brought us the economic meltdown. If this had been item #1, then the Republicans who wanted to obstruct just in order to obstruct would have been facing pitchfork-bearing mobs consisting of their own voters. At the time Obama came to office, support for this across the political spectrum was variously polling at 92 to 96 percent — there is literally no serious issue where Americans are that united. Even now, it polls at over 75 percent across the spectrum. So: not only would this have solved a major problem, but it would have eliminated a lot of the things which caused problems later. (Heck, even bailing out homeowners instead of banks would have made a big difference — the banks would still have seen their mortgages secured, but if the mortgagees had been bailed out it would have been a tremendous step forward for the economy, rather than just a stabilization.) But, of course, it would have been a major problem for corporate-funded Democrats like Obama and, not to put too fine a point on it, Hillary Clinton, so we couldn’t possibly had done that.

    Item 2 should have been prosecuting the Bush administration for war crimes. The Constitution says that treaties have the same legal weight as the Constitution itself, and the treaties which we signed at the end of World War II not only forbad what Bush and Cheney did in no uncertain terms, but also said that any government which shielded such criminals would be considered to be complicit in their crimes. Obama, the Constitutional Scholar, knew that. When he said “we have to look forward, not backward” he was making himself legally guilty of any crimes Bush committed. But, of course, if we had done that, it would have been very very difficult for Obama to expand U.S. military presence in Africa, Asia, and the mideast, all of which he wanted to do (and in which he was encouraged by, once again, Hillary Clinton).

    Then fixing the voter fraud, and then, finally, onward to optional projects which hadn’t actually been major campaign issues like trying to fix health insurance. Instead, we got health insurance straight up in the form of the ACA, and nothing else, to spare the amoral New Democrats — a certain woman whose name I probably don’t need to write once again — the horrors of having to stand up and do their damn jobs.

  31. KG says

    The Vicar@36,

    Yes, yes, we know. The imminent destruction of American science, along with the AHA, American democracy, National Parks, the Paris Accord, and possibly civilization itself, is all the fault of Hillary Clinton and everyone who voted for her.

  32. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    Currently pleading with my oldest child not to let this clusterfuck deter her from pursuing a graduate degree and going into research. She’s taken a year off after getting her degree in Biology at the University of Washington. Medical school seems out of reach but she really enjoyed the time she spent in the lab in microbiology, and is considering moving into research into things like HIV. However, this is scaring her away from trying to follow her desire to help. I will back her whatever she decides to do (the other current path is maybe EMT to see how she fares before going full Paramedic) but I pointed out the desperate need for passionate and honest scientists just now.

  33. says

    In other cheery news,

    President Trump is preparing to take executive action that would target funding for so-called sanctuary cities, part of a series of moves he is considering announcing this week on immigration and national security.

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a close ally of the new administration, telegraphed the sanctuary cities announcement during a speech Wednesday to the conservative Heritage Foundation. He called it a “common sense” action that would “drive the left crazy.”…

  34. Rich Woods says

    You’re just going to have a lot of people like me training eager, ambitious kids for possibilities that you’ve eliminated.

    I expect that’s partly the point. It’s one way for government to dissuade young people from learning about evolution. Such a method would be so much less contentious than trying to ban it.

    And once people aren’t learning about evolution they won’t turn gay and God can stop making the seas rise up to punish America, right? That’ll solve the Chinese climate hoax problem once and for all.

  35. brucegee1962 says

    In addition or along with a March — how about a scientists’ strike? I’d like to see a nationwide “Day without science” where scientists, and the technicians who depend upon science and believe in scientific thinking, all withdraw from what they’re doing and have a teach-in instead. Much as I hate to use that woman’s words, maybe turn them against the people who like to parrot her and go John Galt on the populace.

    I think that, in the eyes of many non-scientific conservatives, there is a distinction between “good science” — physics, computing, medicine, stuff with industrial applications that they can understand — versus “bad science” like climatology or psychology or anything that comes up with answers they don’t like. We need a big gesture to show them that it’s all or nothing — you can’t pick some parts of it you like and reject the parts you don’t.

  36. jrkrideau says

    @ 33 emergence

    Incompetent cut and paste on my part?

    See @ 35 for the same problem. Well my fault.

    Apologies.

    A friend of mine doing a meta-analysis reported finding that the very first reference to a paper misspelt the name. It had continued for about 50 years. This suggests that no one read the original paper and that my friend was a bit obsessive. :) Well a world-famous obsessive.

    Hopefully Jerry Brown can keep science education afloat in California long enough for me to finish my undergraduate material

    Should work, California has a good reputation for top-notch universities. It’s hard to see even Trump and his mob destroying UCLA or Stanford in a year or two.

  37. jrkrideau says

    @ 35methuseus

    Sorry careless copy. I usually miss the first not the last letter. :(

    Sounds like Germany is a good alternative. But, much as I like German (well Bavarian) cuisine, Shanghai looks good to me.

    Have chopsticks!
    Will travel!

  38. anchor says

    The thing that’s popped out at me is how clever Mr.T and his like-minded sycophants consider themselves with their ‘simple solutions’. They have absolutely no appreciation of the complexities or subtleties of the economic and technological aspects of civilization, let alone any conception of the delicate equilibrium complex systems must function under. They will ‘fix it’ all right – like a bull in a china shop. The Neo-Dark-Age arrives.

  39. says

    They have absolutely no appreciation of the complexities or subtleties of the economic and technological aspects of civilization

    Not to mention history. That’s one of the most frustrating aspects of this whole situation to me – its not as if laissez-faire capitalism has never been tried before; we already know how this ends, and we’re doing it anyways. It’s like one of those nightmares where you can see the tornado or whatever coming but you can’t move.

  40. says

    “… what might be the best question: do we really need government funded research at all.”

    Aside from nukes. And collecting citizens’ data. There’s no amount of research in that that’s unnecessary.

  41. unclefrogy says

    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more

    closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the

    plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the

    White House will be adorned by a downright moron. — H.L. Mencken 7/26/1920

    we have reached that day!
    uncle frogy

  42. anat says

    I’m joining those wondering about relocation – for my kid – where would be a reasonably OK place for graduate studies for someone interested in biology who is transgender and has Jewish ancestry (reflected in his name)? He is still early in his undergrad studies, but if the dismantling of science is taken seriously it will not be quickly reversed by electing someone else.

  43. Garcia says

    I think you would be better off to join other groups for more massive marches against this administrations policies because I believe numbers count, the bigger the march the better. We cannot put sole blame on “trump,” idiot that he is. The republican party is the real culprit here. Trump hasn’t even read half the stuff he is signing, nor does he have any real interest. The republicans are gleefully using him as a tool and laugh behind his back when he is not within hearing distance.

  44. jrkrideau says

    # 50 anat

    I’m joining those wondering about relocation – for my kid – where would be a reasonably OK place for graduate studies for someone interested in biology who is transgendered and has Jewish ancestry (reflected in his name)?

    Well, at the moment, Canada. Generally we don’t give a damn where you’re from, if you may be transgender, etc., as long as you speak decent French or English. And speaking “ decent French or English” usually translates into being able to buy a a coffee at Timmys

    Re Jewish did you notice the grief for Leonard Cohen. A great loss for the Irish community he was.

    Note Canadians are prejudiced at times, we just have different prejudices.

  45. unclefrogy says

    as regards to the major weakness of the Obama administration and the main weakness of Obama himself it is his distaste for the political fight. It is part of his makeup and part of his appeal, he is not threatening as a person, besides just being black. He did not have the kind of skill of LBJ nor the obvious enjoyment of the brawl and arm twisting as he did.
    uncle frogy

  46. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    Another Mencken quote:

    “Democracy is the belief that the Common People know what they want and deserve to get it — good and hard.”

  47. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    Talk about actual destruction — go to today’s digbysblog@blogspot.com for an article on “archiving days” scientists everywhere are having to save information from Trump and minions. It’s just horrifying.

  48. mudskipper says

    The March for Science Facebook page is already up to over 460,000 members. And it’s only been in existence for about a day. The March might turn out to be far larger than you think.

  49. numerobis says

    jrkrideau: scroll up and you’ll find the vicar. They used to blame everything on the democrats losing touch with the people. Then it became Clinton herself. Did you stub your toe? Clinton!

  50. rpjohnston says

    Shared to facebook with the comment:

    Let’s not beat around the bush. The Right Wing, the Republicans, are trying to destroy America. That has been their goal for decades: To return America to a benighted, medieval, God-fearing third world agrarian country.

    These anti-American forces aim to destroy everything that we have accomplished, everything that makes America Great, in order to create an impoverished nation of ignorant, suffering worker drones for the enrichment of the elite. And all this to the wild approval of millions who bray against the evils of learning beyond the three r’s – even as they indulge in the fruits of that learning. This is, again, the existential crisis facing America, in which either the Left will win and bring America forward into prosperity, or the Right will win and condemn us all to ignorance and suffering. FIGHT.

  51. blf says

    Any proposed “Science March” or “Scientists (General) Strike” should be a STEMarch” or “STEM (General) Strike”.

  52. numerobis says

    March forth on march fourth.

    Clearly thought up by nerds who lie awake at night dreaming up backronyms.

  53. says

    Because it came up a few times:
    If you think of going to Germany, wait with your decision until the end of the year, because it’s a election year.
    If we get a right wing (CDU/CSU + AfD) government we could be just as fucked. And if Die Grünen get any power, even just as junior partner in a coalition, there is a chance that any research into genetics or nuclear physics gets defunded.

    These are unlikely scenarios, but after Trump i am not willing to rule out anything.

  54. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Edwin Conklin, a big name developmental biologist at the turn of the last century…

    For an expanded value of “last”.

  55. KG says

    And if Die Grünen get any power, even just as junior partner in a coalition, there is a chance that any research into genetics or nuclear physics gets defunded. – Turi1337

    On what do you base that claim? The English version of Die Grünen’s Party Program and Principles contains the following:

    A central tenet of democratic constitutions is freedom in science and research. In our age, the
    borders between basic research, applied research and the technical and economic use of
    knowledge are becoming increasingly blurred. The time separating new discoveries, new
    techniques and their application is becoming ever shorter. For this reason, critical reflection on
    potential effects has to be considered even as early as making decisions on the course of new
    research. For this to happen, there must be public debate far beyond the world of expert opinion.

    Borders have to be imposed on research and science precisely at those points where they violate
    human dignity as, for example, in experimenting on human life or cloning human beings. In the
    same way, limits are needed if research entails a serious threat to the environment, or if the
    principles of animal ethics are infringed.

    but also this:

    The state has to set the legal standards and frame conditions governing science. Society has a right to transparency in research where the consequences profoundly affect societal and individual life, and equally a right to free access to the results of scientific work. However, within these legal standards science and research are then free from censorship and proscription. Public research funding does not bestow the right to determine the contents of science and research.

    I can’t see where you get the idea that “any research into genetics or nuclear physics gets defunded”.

  56. blf says

    KG@69, Your link is borked. Using this link (PDF) and searching for “genetic” I found this (about page 70, quoted in full):

    The right to life and physical integrity apply equally, without qualification, to people with disabilities too. Without any effective means of obtaining the consent of the person ‘under research’, these rights are under recurring threat from modern bio-engineering and genetic
    engineering technologies, organ transplantation, and the discussion on research measures. However, these rights must be prioritised over any general research interest or considerations of use. Fundamental rights are indivisible.

    It seems to start off quite rationally, but then dives into what could be read as a prohibition on research. I do not know if this is what Turi1337@67 is referring-to or not. The document does not appear to be dated (asinine politicians!)…

    (I did not bother to search for, e.g., “physics”…)

  57. DanDare says

    PZ that last thing you said about a new opposition party. A deeper discussion about what that might look like would be good. And a repository to links of nascent ones along with discussion of their merits or otherwise.

  58. says

    So, is Ron Lindsay still optimistic about Trump’s cabinet picks? Any YouTube atheists still supporting Trump? I’m just curious if the reals-not-feels manscience brigade has any actual principles beyond misogyny.

  59. unclefrogy says

    I had to look up Ron Lindsey because I thought Hal Lindsey a different guy indeed
    I wonder what his opinion of DJT might be.(I ain’t going to try and look it up by finding his web page though!)
    uncle frogy

  60. applehead says

    @69 & 70,

    Don’t bother, “Turi” had a Big Gulp of American Rightwing Meme Kool-Aid. American brainwashers pushed relentlessly the notion that any environmental group is a bunch of dirty, druggy hippies and anti-science luddites after organized environmentalism became a political force around the world in the 70s.

    Bündnis 90/Die Grünen have always been one of our most sane parties. Their dedication to human, women’s and LBTGQ rights has always been a few grades above that of other mainstream parties (besides Die Linken).

    Nevermind that the nuclear power phase-out is a flag project of the ruling conservative CDU, “prohibition of research” taken by itself is not something inherently bad.

    Do you know what else research is outlawed? Bioweapons. Poison gas. Human experimentation without consent.

    If the German people, who already have a dim view of nuclear power hence the phase-out, are unwilling to pour tax euros into a technological deadend, then they have every right to make it the law of the land.

  61. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The CDC sponsored AGW meeting is back on, without the CDC. Al Gore stepped in to keep it alive.

    A climate change meeting that was indefinitely delayed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is back on, but without the CDC this time.
    The original conference had been co-sponsored by the CDC and the American Public Health Association (APHA), which said that former Vice President Al Gore stepped in to help keep the meeting alive.
    “I was minding my own business and he picked up the phone and called me,” said APHA executive director Dr. Georges Benjamin.
    “It was a hole in the world that needed to get filled,” Benjamin told NBC News.
    Benjamin said the CDC canceled the original meeting because it came so soon after a new administration came into office. “They were not sure what the new administration’s position on climate change would be,” Benjamin said.
    “This is primarily about health and not about politics,” Benjamin said, adding that he and Gore felt it was important to move ahead.
    The APHA, Gore, The Climate Reality Project, Harvard Global Health Institute, the University of Washington Center for Health and the Global Environment and Dr. Howard Frumkin, former director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health are the new organizers, the APHA said.

  62. KG says

    blf@70,

    Thanks for correcting the borked link. The passage you quote just seems incoherent. Whether the original German makes sense – and if so, what it says – would be interesting to know. But here’s the whole section on Dealing with gene technology in medicine.:

    In Green policy, people’s desire for health and physical and emotional integrity are put at the top of the agenda. Where there is a realistic chance of preventing illness or providing suitable therapy, we see it as our duty to use opportunities in the patients’ interests, as long as the possible consequences have been given serious consideration, do not harm the interests of others, or violate basic fundamental values.

    Our objective is to utilize and promote whatever realistic chances there are for healing illnesses. But we reject directing genetic engineering to the creation of the ‘perfect’ human being. Our benchmark is each person’s individuality, not a notion of how they measure up to presumed norms of physical “health”, “fitness” or “beauty”. We set every form of research and utilization in genetic engineering against the notion of human dignity enshrined in our Constitution: From the very start, human life is to be protected and not instrumentalized. We firmly reject any consumer-directed embryo research.

    Health research and bio-technologies offer far greater application than just the realm of genetic engineering; this major potential ought to be taken advantage of. Applying numerous different approaches also ensures independence from any one particular technology. In this sense, a wide-range of research has an inherent value in itself, a fact that must be reflected in research funding too.

    To limit the risks inherent in genetic technologies and make the players in this arena responsible for their actions, we are calling for effective legal regulations on liability. Similarly, we want an obligation to provide suitable insurance cover required from companies or research institutes engaged in green or red gene technologies. Individual genetic data has to be protected. In conjunction with the desire to know about one’s own genetic information, there needs to be a
    corresponding “right not to know”. The voluntary nature of genome analysis and protection of confidentiality have to be given priority over any strictly economic concerns. Strict borders have to be drawn for the privatisation and commercialisation of our genetic heritage too. We reject completely the idea of any patent rights on genes, genetically
    manipulated plants or animals, let alone on parts of the human body. In our view, patents should only be granted for research processes in genetic engineering and use-specific areas of genetic technologies. Gene tests should not be permitted as a requirement for concluding either employment or insurance contracts, nor should knowledge gained from earlier tests be admissible.

    Some points could be clearer (maybe translation problems again), but it does seem evident that nothing anywhere near a ban on genetic research is intended.

Leave a Reply