Dear Donald Trump: The scientific community is watching.
More than 2,300 scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize winners, signed an open letter urging the president-elect and the incoming 115th Congress to ensure that the federal government will support scientific inquiry and rely upon it when shaping public policy.
The letter, published earlier this week, lays out four crucial steps the Trump administration and Congress can take to strengthen the role of science in policymaking: Foster “a strong and open culture of science,” ground public safeguards like the Clean Air Act firmly in scientific knowledge, adhere to high standards for scientific integrity and independence and provide adequate resources for federal scientists to conduct their work.
“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 letter reads. “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 policymaking and stand ready to hold accountable any who might seek to undermine it.”
Many scientists are alarmed by Trump’s election in part because of the antagonism he displayed toward their collective endeavor. This included spreading climate change skepticism, suggesting vaccines cause autism and making wildly inaccurate claims about everything from voter fraud to the unemployment rate.
The signers, who hail from all 50 states, said the well-being and health of people in the United States and beyond is improved when U.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,” they wrote. “Policymakers and the public alike require access to high-quality scientific information to serve the public interest.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists, the science advocacy nonprofit that arranged the letter, fears that Congress will reintroduce legislation that would increase political control over federal agency experts who are entrusted with using science to protect the environment and public health.
“Scientists are mobilizing because transition team members and potential Cabinet appointees have a demonstrated history of suppressing science and attacking scientists when the results prove inconvenient,” Michael Halpern, the deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said to Yahoo News.
“And when science is politicized, it’s the health and environment of the American people who suffer. The scientific community felt the need to set clear and reasonable expectations while the President-elect is assembling his team, before he steps into the White House.”
The organization emphasized the importance of federal scientists being able to conduct research without political or private-sector interference and to freely communicate their findings without fear of retaliation.
“A thriving federal scientific enterprise has enormous benefits to the public,” said Nobel Laureate Carol Greider, director of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University, said in a press release. “Experts at federal agencies prevent the spread of diseases, ensure the safety of our food and water, protect consumers from harmful medical devices and so much more. The new administration must ensure that federal agencies can continue to use science to serve the public interest.”
In the same release, physicist Lewis Branscomb, who directed the National Bureau of Standards under President Nixon, said a prerequisite for any cabinet position should be respect for the role of science in policymaking.
“Americans recognize that science is critical to improving our quality of life, and when science is ignored or politically corrupted, it’s the American people who suffer,” Branscomb said.
This is not the first letter of its kind. In September, 376 members of the National Academy of Sciences released an open letter warning about the severe risks of climate change and the damage pulling out of the Paris Agreement would have on the United States’ international reputation.
Last month, a prominent physics group, the American Physical Society, retracted a press release that congratulated Trump on his victory after backlash from its members.