quarta-feira, 22 de fevereiro de 2017

US scientists voice fears over how science will fare under Trump

 

newscientist.com

 

By Chelsea Whyte and Penny Sarchet in Boston

protest

Scientists took to the streets of Boston

Steven Senne/AP

Anxiety has been running high at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston, as scientists and policy-makers have been discussing the implications of President Trump’s policies for science. Hundreds of people also gathered in Copley Square in the city centre just down the road from the conference for a protest rally.

The rally was organized by two science activist groups called climatetruth.org and The Natural History Museum, and endorsed by more than a dozen national and regional scientific organizations. The event drew attendees from AAAS as well as students from Boston universities and non-scientists from the area who chanted “Stand up for science”.

At the conference itself, a session on Saturday entitled “Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of Trump” was so well attended that many were forced to stand, or to sit in the aisles.

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The hour was dedicated to discussions of what’s to come for scientists in America under the new White House leadership. The high-spirited talk swung from an optimistic view of a newly energised and vocal scientific community, to gloomy predictions of how science will fare under the Trump administration.

Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists said scientists in America should take lessons from the past, like the side-lining of science under the George W. Bush administration, and warned of a difficult path ahead.

“We know the playbook, but this is a different sport. We’ve seen that President Trump isn’t going to respect scientists,” said Goldman.

John Holdren, the former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said his biggest concern in the coming year is severe cuts to the budgets of the agencies that fund research and development.

“My biggest worry is about the consequences to society if scientists are muzzled and intimidated, if science is defunded, if data are deleted and scientific institutions are undermined,” said Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University, who formerly worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We don’t know for sure that all that will happen. We have warning signs that are very sobering.”

Political concerns have formed a backdrop to many discussions at the conference in Boston. “We appear to have a president now that resists facts that do not comport to his preferences,” Holdren said in a different session on Friday. “I’m worried — based on early indications — that we can be in for a major shift in the culture around science and technology and its eminence in government.”

On Thursday, Naomi Oreskes, of Harvard University, argued that in areas of controversy – such as climate change and vaccine safety – scientists need to speak out, rather than hoping their scientific findings would speak for themselves.

Facts don’t speak for themselves, because these arguments are not about facts, said Oreskes, a science historian who studies scientific consensus and dissent. If you do important scientific work, not speaking in public will not protect you from attack, she warned.

“I would say scientists have to redouble their efforts,” Rush Holt, AAAS chief executive, said on Thursday. “Sometimes that will require courage.”

On Saturday, Phil Rice, an emergency physician at Harvard Medical School expressed concerns about what he called “an authoritarian fascist government”. He called on scientists to stand up for those who may be attacked for their work or discredited for political gain.

“This is a locomotive coming at us and they will come for the scientists,” said Rice, reminding the room of the imprisonment of scientists under Hitler.

But Kurt Gottfried, a co-founder of the Union of Concerned Scientists, responded with memories of his own childhood in Vienna during the Nazi annexation of Austria in the 1930s. “I have experienced what you are talking about and I want to warn you against overstating the case.”

Read more: US Congress just made it easier to ditch science for politics; Science stood apart from politics for a long time, not anymore

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