The future of American science is in question

It sounds incredible that we are even asking that question here in the 21st century, in a country that is one of the world leaders in research in science and technology, but Trump has made it scarily relevant. His pick for the office of management and budget is a guy who thinks the funding of science might belong on the chopping block.

President-elect Donald Trump recently picked Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to head the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Like many of Trump’s other Cabinet nominees, Mulvaney seems to have a disturbingly low opinion of science.

In a stunning September 9 Facebook post (that’s since been deleted but is still cached), Mulvaney asked, … what might be the best question: do we really need government funded research at all.

That was in the context of a discussion about funding programs to deal with the Zika virus. What Mulvaney argued was nonsensical and self-defeating: there had been studies that found the etiology of Zika-induced birth defects to be complex and variable (there have since been studies that showed a stronger and more consistent association), so he’s arguing that maybe we don’t need more scientific studies at all? This is a close-your-eyes-and-maybe-it-will-all-go-away approach. We don’t run away from complexity. We don’t expect that interactions in biology will be simple and clear and 100% reproducible.

This is also a matter of public health, rather than profit. We also don’t expect that the biomedical industry will, out of the kindness of their hearts, fund research on a low-frequency but tragically serious disease, nor are pharmaceutical companies, for instance, usually much concerned with public health measures to control disease vectors. This is exactly the kind of research that needs government funding — unprofitable, requiring multi-disciplinary approaches, with a need to work out basic mechanisms.

And that’s what compels Mulvaney to question the utility of government-funded research. I wonder what he thinks of Drosophila and zebrafish work?

Scientists are already beginning to fight back

The climate scientists are already standing up against Trump.

The American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) annual week-long conference of 26,000 earth and planetary scientists from around the world took place in San Francisco this past week. This meeting is one of the largest yearly gatherings of scientists, and the first major gathering of climate scientists since Trump’s election.

Trump’s climate change denial and attacks on science were big topics of conversation throughout the conference. At the official AGU table, attorneys were handing out guides to “handling political harassment and legal intimidation” for scientists studying things like climate science. They have already been in the crosshairs of attack by anti-science Republicans in Congress—and they would be qualitatively more intensely targeted with a Trump regime. Some scientists have announced projects to save crucial climate data on non-government servers. They are anticipating outright destruction of data and accumulated scientific knowledge about climate change by a Trump administration. The Trump forces have already threatened to de-fund the satellite system run by the U.S. that gathers climate and other data for the entire world. This knowledge belongs to humanity—it is not for some Nazis in the U.S. to destroy to enforce blindness, ignorance and their savage rule.

Inside the conference, Sally Jewell, the outgoing Secretary of the Interior, made some shameful remarks that tried to normalize the threat Trump represents. According to the UK Guardian: “The Trump administration could not quickly gut federal research. Science would be ‘foundational’ to government, she told attendees: ‘We have a president-elect that likes to win, and we can’t win without science.’”

On the first day of the AGU conference, over 400 people, including prominent climate scientists, environmental activists, indigenous leaders, students, and others held a protest against attacks on science that are threatened with the election of Trump and further foreshadowed by his cabinet choices. The protest rally began with a procession of lab-coated scientists mounting a stage, with signs like “Science is Real” and “NO DAPL” (referring to the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been a hard-fought struggle for both indigenous rights and the environment). Other signs ridiculed Trump and his minions, like “Gravity Is a Hoax” and “Ice doesn’t have an agenda, it just melts.”

It is rare for scientists to organize public political protests, and this is a sign of how disturbed people are. The press release for the rally spoke of how scientists are starting to act “In the face of attempts to intimidate academics and undermine freedom of inquiry” and how this rally is “a notable exception” to the ways scientists normally express their views.

Naomi Oreskes, a prominent earth and planetary science professor at Harvard University, said, “We don’t want to be here. We want to be doing the work we were trained and educated to do, which is science. So don’t get upset, don’t get depressed. Get organized.”

Peter Frumhoff, a representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the organizers of the rally, said, “Science and evidence is at risk. It is on us to ensure it is protected.”

If you’re attending a scientific meeting, or better yet, if you’re organizing a scientific meeting, try to get a consensus letter or protest event on the agenda, and get your opposition to the Republican politicization of science on the record.

Text of PZ Myers’ speech at the organizational meeting

I am standing here as a human being outraged by circumstances, just as all of you here. I have no special qualities to make me uniquely representative, or to warrant my presence on this stage. If I had my way we’d everyone of us rise up and march together now unified in our opposition — and I think we’ll do precisely that a little later. So I feel a bit humbled to have been asked to say a few words for a small sector of the American experience.

I am an educator and a scientist. As an educator and scientist, in addition to being a human being, I am horrified. We have elected a post-truth president; worse, he is actively anti-truth. He is the antithesis of everything reason and science stand for.

Let me give a few examples of Trump’s anti-science stand. All we have to do is look at his twitter feed.

Way back in 2014, when there was an Ebola outbreak in Africa, he wrote this:

The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back, People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!

Think about the callous insensitivity in that remark — not only should the innocents afflicted with a terrible disease be neglected, but the courageous medical professionals who went to their aid should be refused entry back into this country. Cowardice and an inhuman disregard for the lives of our best and bravest…

Is this man who we want to be our president?

More recently he demonstrated gross ignorance. He wrote,

Autism rates through the roof—why doesn’t the Obama administration do something about doctor-inflicted autism

He’s anti-vaccination — a well-supported, safe medical procedure that saves millions of lives, because he denies the robust evidence that shows that it works, and refutes any claim that it causes autism. He goes further and accuses doctors of conspiring to cause autism.

This is destructive to the health of our people…but then, it’s clear that he has little interest in helping the needy.

Is this man who we want to be president of our country?

Another example of inflammatory, dangerous conspiracy theories.

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

Unbelievable. Climate scientists are fundamentally unanimous in their agreement on this matter: the climate is changing. It is caused by rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses. These gasses are largely generated from human sources: from industry, from automobiles, from rising demands for energy produced from fossil fuels. This is a crisis. We must respond, and respond soon.

Trump’s response is to deny reality, and to ascribe the concern to yet another conspiracy theory, and to blame a foreign power.

This is dangerous madness. Again, I have to ask…is this man who we want to be president of our country?

It’s more than just what he has said, it’s what he has already done. He has appointed an Exxon executive to be his Secretary of State. His administrator of the environmental protection agency is a lawyer he who has always sided with the oil, coal, and gas industry, and wants to destroy the EPA. His secretary of the interior does not accept the science of climate change and wants to strip away safeguards to protect, well, the interior. His secretary of energy is a man who declared his intention to destroy the position of secretary of energy…although he also forgot the name of the position during the campaign.

I also have to mention an enduring, long term threat: his secretary of education is someone who campaigns to impoverish and destroy public education. Apparently, ignorance is a virtue fascism wants to encourage.

Is this man who we want to be president of our country?

One last thing: these are not merely differences of opinion. Trump has embraced the fascist dream of enforcing his opinion with threats of violence.

Recently, Michael Mann, a well known and highly respected climate scientist, wrote about his experience with the thugs of the right-wing, who become bolder after this recent election.

I’ve faced hostile investigations by politicians, demands for me to be fired from my job, threats against my life and even threats against my family. Those threats have diminished in recent years, as man-made climate change has become recognized as the overwhelming scientific consensus and as climate science has received the support of the federal government. But with the coming Trump administration, my colleagues and I are steeling ourselves for a renewed onslaught of intimidation, from inside and outside government. It would be bad for our work and bad for our planet.

And then there have been the threats of violence. I’ve received email warnings that “the public will come after you,” suggesting that I’ll find myself “six feet under” and hoping to read that I had “committed suicide.”

I can tell you that he is not alone. I teach evolutionary biology, and have likewise received threats of violence, death threats, and promises to get me fired from my job. I have been placed on the Professor Watch List by far right wing propagandists, because I took a strong stand against scientifically fallacious and ethically unconscionable racism promoted on my campus by neo-Nazi propagandists.

This is fascism.

We have no choice. We must say NO — In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America!


(From Neveragain.Tech)

Our pledge

We, the undersigned, are employees of tech organizations and companies based in the United States. We are engineers, designers, business executives, and others whose jobs include managing or processing data about people. We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable.

We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out. We see how IBM collaborated to digitize and streamline the Holocaust, contributing to the deaths of six million Jews and millions of others. We recall the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. We recognize that mass deportations precipitated the very atrocity the word genocide was created to describe: the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey. We acknowledge that genocides are not merely a relic of the distant past—among others, Tutsi Rwandans and Bosnian Muslims have been victims in our lifetimes.

Today we stand together to say: not on our watch, and never again.

We commit to the following actions:

  • We refuse to participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin.
  • We will advocate within our organizations:
    • to minimize the collection and retention of data that would facilitate ethnic or religious targeting.
    • to scale back existing datasets with unnecessary racial, ethnic, and national origin data.
    • to responsibly destroy high-risk datasets and backups.
    • to implement security and privacy best practices, in particular, for end-to-end encryption to be the default wherever possible.
    • to demand appropriate legal process should the government request that we turn over user data collected by our organization, even in small amounts.
  • If we discover misuse of data that we consider illegal or unethical in our organizations:
    • We will work with our colleagues and leaders to correct it.
    • If we cannot stop these practices, we will exercise our rights and responsibilities to speak out publicly and engage in responsible whistleblowing without endangering users.
    • If we have the authority to do so, we will use all available legal defenses to stop these practices.
    • If we do not have such authority, and our organizations force us to engage in such misuse, we will resign from our positions rather than comply.
  • We will raise awareness and ask critical questions about the responsible and fair use of data and algorithms beyond our organization and our industry.

Learn more

Learn more about the pledge or read more resources.

Divestment Works.

Panel of speakers, including Lou Allstadt (second from left) at the DivestInvest press conference on December 12. CREDIT: Fenton.

Panel of speakers, including Lou Allstadt (second from left) at the DivestInvest press conference on December 12. CREDIT: Fenton.

Some friends of mine, who I met at the Oceti Sakowin camp, recently asked about particular points in getting similar movements going, in regard to the fossil fuel problem. One thing I mentioned was divestment, because economic sanctions work. This is also activism which is fairly easy for most people to do. It doesn’t take much effort, but it packs a huge wallop, and it’s a wallop which actually gets the attention of those with mass amounts of money and power. A short while back, Ruth Hopkins tweeted a letter that Wells Fargo wrote to Standing Rock, requesting a meeting, because the divestment caused them many woes.

Divestment activism is spreading, and everyone can help by boosting the signal about this specific type of activism. Everyone can choose where they want their money to be, and what they want their money to aid and fund. Think Progress has some articles up about divestment, highly recommended reading. Divestment campaigns are growing, and they work!

The global divestment movement has topped $5 trillion.

Seattle might break ties with Wells Fargo over bank’s Standing Rock investments.

There are often updates about divestment campaigns on #NoDAPL, and Ruth Hopkins stays on top of everything.

To defend science, we must defend equality and liberty

Are you a member of the Defend Science organization? They’re a group that was founded in 2005 to oppose the wave of anti-scientific garbage coming out of the Bush administration, and suddenly they’ve become even more relevant for 2017. They sent out a mass email to announce their opposition to the Trump presidency.

Dear Defend Science Signatories,

Right after the election we sent out a letter to you all, warning of the danger of a Donald Trump presidency and we included an initial statement “In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America”.

Only a couple of weeks later it is even more apparent that there is an incredible danger facing us.

And now there is a very serious effort being initiated now to oppose this:

NO! In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America!

This is calling for a A MONTH OF RESISTANCE beginning on December 19th,
reaching a crescendo by the January 20th 2017 Inauguration.

We urge all of you to immediately:

  • add you name to the list of signers of this statement and spread it
  • donate to make this effort a success (we recommend $200). Go to:
  • write back to us with your ideas on how we will make this a great success. This could include:
    • your willingness to spread this in academia & scientific circles/organizations
    • host events
    • take part in teach-ins
    • work to get this statement published
      and much more

Here is the link to the web-site for this effort:

–Barry Thornton, main organizer of Defend Science
–Frank Williams, organizer of Defend Science

I’d add that scientists ought to sign on to the Defend Science list — we’re about to need it far more than we ever imagined.

Petition: Stop the Sabal Trail Transmission Pipeline.

Tim Canova, who ran a great primary campaign against Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida’s 23rd district but ultimately lost, has a petition up at urging action on the Sabal Trail Transmission Pipeline. Among other environmental risks, the project threatens the Floridan Aquifer, which is one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world. Please sign and share.


Petitioning U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Stop the Sabal Trail Pipeline

Petition by Tim Canova

When the Standing Rock Youth first started their campaign to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, no one had even heard of it – yet they went on to inspire hundreds of thousands of people to take action to stop a project that threatened their community. Today, I want to tell you about another equally dangerous pipeline that is threatening our water and animal life in Florida and neighboring states.

Please sign my petition to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the Sabal Trail Transmission Pipeline.

A few weeks ago I finished up a campaign to run for Congress in Florida, during which I spent many months talking to voters in the state. Since then we launched Progress For All, a community action group committed to protecting our environment. You know what has stuck with me most from these collective efforts? The hundreds of conversations I’ve had with Floridians about their commitment to protecting our beautiful state from projects that prioritize profits over our safety and planet. Projects like the Sabal Trail Pipeline.

This pipeline will span more than 500 miles across Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. It will run right by the Crystal River, a crucial sanctuary for endangered manatees, and the Suwannee River, also home to several endangered species. Not only that, but the pipeline’s construction could also damage the fragile limestone which surrounds the Floridan Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world.

Help us stop this project before it hurts Florida’s natural resources.

A few months ago, Governor Rick Scott’s administration changed our state’s water quality standards, opening the door for fracking and possibly more pipeline construction in Florida – all of which pose an even greater threat to our aquifer. But I know for a fact that Floridians are ready for a move away from these destructive industries. More and more cities and counties across Florida have passed resolutions to ban fracking. Voters recently passed a statewide referendum for solar energy and voted to protect state support for solar energy power.

I’m worried that some of Florida’s most precious natural treasures won’t be around in twenty years – all because politicians are defying the will of the people and pushing for fracking and more pipelines.

This is unacceptable. Please sign our petition and take action against this dangerous pipeline.

Rick Perry and the Texas Enterprise Fund: More Cause for Concern

In an earlier post, Caine noted the troubling ties between Trump’s pick for energy secretary and the Dakota Access Pipeline.  The prospect of former Texas Governor Rick Perry as Secretary of the Department of Energy should worry us given these ties and given his history of handing over taxpayer money to corporations via the now defunct Texas Enterprise Fund.

Mother Jones reported on this fund’s problems in 2011:

The governor has repeatedly overstated how many jobs it has created, according to several Texas-based advocacy and research groups. Moreover, Perry’s office has stonewalled attempts to get clearer information about the program’s lackluster results.

The TEF’s lack of transparency coupled with the fact that many of the corporations that received funds donated to his PAC or related PACs should make us more than wary if Perry’s appointment is confirmed.  Who will benefit from the DOE’s policies then?


SUF Uppsala: Demonstration mot DAPL!