On Monday, protesters nationwide are rallying as part of a “Day Against Denial” pushing their representatives in the U.S. Senate to stand up against Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominations, given many of the nominees’ skepticism and outright denial of the realities of climate change.
Yet these nominations are hardly the only instance of Trump and his coming administration’s seeming resistance to scientific realities.
“Science is science and facts are facts.” That’s what Trump told Scientific American in September, in response to a question about scientific integrity and how his administration would foster the use of evidence to create policy.
When it comes to science, “my administration will ensure that there will be total transparency and accountability without political bias,” Trump went on. “The American people deserve this and I will make sure this is the culture of my administration.”
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But in the wake of Trump’s White House win, thousands of scientists from across the country have signed onto letters raising concerns about whether science will actually be used properly in a Trump administration and sounding alarms about the potential consequences.
“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,” said physicist Lewis Branscomb, professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, in a press release announcing one such letter. “Respect for science in policymaking should be a prerequisite for any cabinet position.”
“The anti-knowledge and anti-science sentiments expressed repeatedly during the U.S. presidential election threaten the very foundations of our society. Our work as scientists and our values as human beings are under attack,” said another letter from a group of women scientists.
The push calling for Trump’s administration to center fact-based findings is understandable, given that the Republican consistently disregarded these things when campaigning. In fact, an analysis by Scientific American of Trump’s record on science compared to three other presidential contenders gave him the lowest score of them all—a full 23 points lower than the second-lowest candidate, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson.
As concerns continue to rise regarding the effect Trump’s cabinet selections will have on climate change and health, it is crucial to look back at the most egregious anti-science positions held by the president-elect and some the people he chooses to surround himself with.
Trump Believes Climate Change Is a “Hoax”
In late November, Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said NASA shouldn’t be engaging in what he called “politically correct environmental monitoring,” or more accurately phrased, climate change research.
“We see NASA in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Walker told the Guardian, presumably referring to the views of a Trump administration. While he said that he personally saw the need for climate research and acknowledged that most scientists say climate change is real, Walker again charged that it has been “heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing” and should be handed over to other agencies.
According to Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, axing NASA’s climate change research would be a disaster. “It could put us back into the ‘dark ages’ of almost the pre-satellite era,” he told the Guardian. “It would be extremely short-sighted.”
Trump’s own stance as a climate-change denier means these threats should be taken seriously. Shortly after Walker’s comments were made, Trump appointed another climate-change denier, Christopher Shank, to his NASA transition team.
And in a response to a question about addressing climate change for sciencedebate.org in September, Trump suggested it wasn’t worth putting federal funding behind addressing the issue. “There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change,’” claimed Trump. “Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water.” (As ThinkProgress noted at the time, “Trump fails to demonstrate a basic understanding that the issues he is bringing up are all directly related to and exacerbated by climate change …. While we need to address these issues, we need to acknowledge that addressing climate change will do more to protect the livable environment than any other single issue.”)
He has also vowed to “cancel” the Paris Agreement, a landmark climate deal made with 195 countries to reduce carbon emissions. The move prompted 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences to sign onto a letter warning that the consequences for doing so would be “severe and long-lasting—for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.” Trump has since said he would have an “open mind” on it.
While the reality is that climate change is settled science, Trump claimed in a 2012 tweet that the “concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
As fact-checking site PolitiFact reported in June, Trump later said the claim was just a “joke,” but in a January 2016 appearance on Fox News’ Fox & Friends he seemingly doubled down on the suggestion. “Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax,” said Trump. “And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.”
Trump has otherwise repeatedly referred to climate change as a hoax in other tweets. Speaking on Fox News late last year, he said that while nobody really knows” climate change is real, he would be “open minded” on that matter as well.
And he isn’t the only member of the impending Trump administration who either doesn’t believe in climate change or has expressed skepticism about it, including Vice president-elect Pence; Scott Pruitt, who was chosen to head the Environmental Protection Agency; Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Trump’s pick for interior secretary; Rick Perry, who was chosen to lead the Department of Energy; and Trump’s selection for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
Trump Pushes Medically and Scientifically Dubious Anti-Choice Legislation
Trump’s anti-science views on abortion are shared by the majority of the Republican Party. The GOP’s apparent infatuation with passing a 20-week abortion ban based on the false claim that a fetus can feel pain at this point in a pregnancy is the perfect example.
On the campaign trail, Trump voiced support for such a measure, and in a September letter to anti-choice advocates asking them to join his cause, he vowed to sign the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” into law, should he be elected.
That piece of legislation, which failed in the Senate after being passed by the House, was co-sponsored in 2015 by Trump’s selection for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Rep. Tom Price (R-GA). The 2016 Republican platform also called for Congress to enact the ban on a federal level.
However, science doesn’t back up the ban. Major medical groups and health experts agree that a fetus has not yet developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester of pregnancy. As Rewire has previously reported, “a 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found ‘that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior’ to 24 weeks’ gestation.”
And while the GOP has often trotted out so-called experts to testify to the contrary, such experts are often anti-choice activists pushing junk science.
Trump Promoted False Claims of a Link Between Vaccinations and Autism
Trump has repeatedly pushed a false link between autism and vaccinations, though his many tweets on the subject claim he is not opposed to vaccines wholesale, just to children receiving “one massive dose” at once.
In August 2016, Trump reportedly met with anti-vaccination activists during a donor event in Florida and promised to watch a film related to their work. Jennifer Larson, CEO of the Holland Center, said the following of the encounter on her Facebook page:
Now that Trump won, we can all feel safe in sharing that Mr. Trump met with autism advocates in August. He gave us 45 minutes and was extremely educated on our issues. Mark stated ‘You can’t make America great with all these sick children and more coming’. Trump shook his head and agreed. He heard my son’s vaccine injury story. Andy told him about Thompson and gave him Vaxxed. Dr Gary ended the meeting by saying ‘Donald, you are the only one who can fix this’. He said ‘I will’. We left hopeful. Lots of work left to do.
Andrew Wakefield, an anti-vaccination activist and discredited former physician who had his medical license revoked, was also in attendance.
Experts told Stat News in November that while they didn’t necessarily foresee a Trump administration putting activists in his cabinet who would change federal policy on vaccinations, having someone in the White House with doubts about vaccinations could make a difference to others unwilling to accept the settled science.
Those skeptical of vaccinations may “see in Donald Trump a fellow traveler—someone who, like them, is willing to basically ignore scientific studies and say, ‘This is true. Vaccines cause autism because I believe it’s true,’” Dr. Paul Offit, the head of the infectious diseases department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told Stat.
And Trump has already chosen Price, a member of an anti-choice medical association also known to promote false anti-vaccination claims, to head HHS.
Trump did tell Scientific American that “we should educate the public on the values of a comprehensive vaccination program.” He did not, however, go into any specifics about what that means, what he sees those values as being, or how he would propose doing so.
Fetal Tissue Research and the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Thus far, Trump and his transition team have yet to outline a plan for NIH and biomedical research.
When asked by Scientific American what policies he would support to ensure that the United States remained at the forefront of science and engineering, Trump said that the federal government “should encourage innovation in the areas of space exploration and investment in research and development across the broad landscape of academia.” He went on to say that while “there are increasing demands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget, we must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare.”
But later in the questionnaire, when asked specifically about improving federal research to address public health threats, Trump questioned whether such efforts truly deserved more funding, suggesting that the government should not “simply throw money at these institutions.” He went on to say that the federal government’s “efforts to support research and public health initiatives will have to be balanced with other demands for scarce resources.”
Trump was similarly flippant when directly discussing the NIH on the campaign trail during an interview with conservative radio host Michael Savage in October 2015. Suggesting that Savage—notorious for his offensive rhetoric and for pushing medical falsehoods and misinformation on autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and vaccines—would be a good fit to run NIH, Trump claimed that he has heard “so much about the NIH and it’s terrible.”
The NIH’s many federally funded critical research projects may be especially in danger due to debunked videos from the anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which falsely claimed to show Planned Parenthood participating in the “sale” of fetal tissue. House Republicans have used CMP’s videos to relentlessly attack fetal tissue research, which is legal. Despite more than a dozen state investigations and three federal inquiries turning up no evidence of provider wrongdoing, the GOP is expected to spend $1.59 million on its so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. Under the guise of an investigation, the panel has put the privacy and safety of medical researchers working in the field at risk, leading some Democrats to call out its “chilling” effect on research.
Last year, the NIH’s projects included the allocation of about $80 million toward fetal tissue research related to, among other things, HIV and lupus.
Trump has seemingly not given his opinion on using fetal tissue from abortions for medical research, though he has suggested that the debunked videos show Planned Parenthood “talking about [fetal tissue donations] like you’re selling parts to a car” and used it as an excuse to call for the provider to be defunded.
Meanwhile, now-Vice President-elect Pence wrote in a 2009 op-ed for the Hill that he believes “it is morally wrong to create human life to destroy it for research.” He went on that he also “believe[s] it is morally wrong to take the tax dollars of millions of pro-life Americans, who believe that life is sacred, and use it to fund the destruction of human embryos for research.” Pence also signed a law as governor of Indiana to ban the donation of fetal tissue; the measure is now suspended.
Trump also appointed Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who heads the select panel, to his “presidential transition team executive committee” in November. Blackburn’s crusade has been described as a blatant “witch hunt” on medical research and Planned Parenthood.
Given Trump’s anti-choice stance, his vice president’s views on fetal tissue and stem cell research, and the president-elect’s willingness to include Blackburn in his transition team, funding for the research or even the ability to use fetal tissue from abortions at all could be at stake.
That could have a major effect on advancement in medical research, according to Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin. “If researchers are unable to work with fetal tissue, there is a huge list of diseases for which researchers would move much more slowly, rather than quickly, to find their cause and how they can be cured,” she said in an August email to the Associated Press.