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Scientists express concerns about how Trump will affect science policies and research

“Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” says Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society.

Rice University physicist Neal Lane: “[Donald] Trump’s election does not bode well for science or most anything else of value.”
REUTERS/Mike Segar

What does Donald Trump’s win Tuesday mean for biomedicine and science, particularly as Republicans also retained majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives?

In article after article on Wednesday, scientists and researchers expressed concern, fear and even panic about the implications of Tuesday’s election results on scientific research, including biomedical research.

“I am simply stunned,” said Rice University physicist Neal Lane in an interview with Science magazine. “Trump’s election does not bode well for science or most anything else of value,” he added. Lane, a Democrat, once headed the National Science Foundation and was White House science advisor under President Bill Clinton.

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Here are other excerpts from some of the post-election articles on this topic.

From Nature News:

“Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” says Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington, DC. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.”

Trump has questioned the science underlying climate change — at one point suggesting that that it was a Chinese hoax — and pledged to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.

Although he has offered few details on policies for biomedical research, Trump said last year that has heard “terrible” things about the US National Institutes of Health.

From BuzzFeed News:

The scientific community shifted into collective panic on Tuesday night … Biomedical researchers — in both industry and academia — [are] concerned.

Trump has repeatedly pushed the myth that vaccines cause autism, for example, and once ran a company selling questionable “customized” vitamins.

“I feel sick to my stomach,” a research director of a small biotech focused on autism therapies told BuzzFeed News. …

“What Donald Trump brings to the United States is uncertainty, which is going to result in a dramatic restriction of money that can be invested in innovation,” [said] the scientist, who did not want to use his name for fear of professional backlash. … “A win from Donald Trump jeopardizes our ability to work towards new medicines to help families.”

The vast majority of academic researchers are funded by the federal government, with most biomedical work supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Although historically this funding has received bipartisan support, some worry that that could change under Trump. …

“Dramatic tax cuts will hurt research in a big way for sure,” added Jonathan Sebat, a genetics researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “The real question is how is the economy going to handle the inevitable instability that will come when Trump begins to dismantle the existing economic policies.”

Trump has also promised to add an anti-abortion justice to the Supreme Court, and his running mate, Mike Pence, had a long history of anti-abortion policy in his home state of Indiana.

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From Business Insider:

Mike Pence’s conservative and religious views may have colored his perceptions of science. In 2009, he wrote in The Hill that embryonic stem cell research is “obsolete,” after President Barack Obama lifted federal restrictions on such research.

He also claimed in 2001 that smoking doesn’t cause cancer.

From the Boston Globe’s STAT website:

The coming weeks will be consumed by speculation about the makeup of a Trump cabinet, which is reportedly going to be heavy on private-sector membership. Of key importance to the world of science and medicine is Health and Human Services, which presides over the FDA, the NIH, the CDC, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, among other agencies.

Dr. Ben Carson — who has assailed the Affordable Care Act, called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and disputed the theory of evolution — is an oft-cited candidate. So, too, is Gingrich, a friend of the drug industry who has also crusaded for broader research into Alzheimer’s and dementia. Also mentioned is Rich Bagger, a longtime biopharma exec who took a leave of absence from his role at biotech giant Celgene to serve as executive director of the Trump transition team under his friend New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

HHS departments like the FDA and NIH have long been considered essentially apolitical. But partisan fighting over drug prices and scientific appropriations could thrust those agencies into an uncomfortable spotlight. And whoever Trump picks to take over for current HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell will play a key role in shaping science and medicine policy.

From the Washington Post:

The American Association for the Advancement of Science — the country’s largest society of scientific researchers — urged the president-elect to appoint “a respected scientist” as his next science adviser; make major scientific issues, such as climate change and investment in research, a central part of his agenda; and avoid budget fights that delay funding for research agencies.

“We stand ready to work with the president-elect’s administration and Republican as well as Democratic policymakers in a bipartisan fashion to harness the power of science and technology in service of society,” said AAAS chief executive Rush Holt.