This week the U.S. elected businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump as its 45th president. As Scientific American has reported in the run-up to the election, Trump's views on science, health and medicine appear unformed at best, ignorant and destructive at worst. To get an idea of what top minds in science, health and research are thinking, we reached out to Scientific American's Board of Advisers to get their quick-fire reactions to the election outcome. The excerpts, some of them edited for length, appear below.
Dear New Zealand,
The two largest nations in the English-speaking world have just suffered catastrophes at the hands of voters—in both cases the uneducated, anti-intellectual portion of voters. Science in both countries will be hit extremely hard: In the one case, by the xenophobically inspired severing of painstakingly built-up relationships with European partners; in the other case by the election of an unqualified, narcissistic, misogynistic sick joke as president. In neither case is the disaster going to be short-lived: in America because of the nonretirement rule of the Supreme Court; in Britain because Brexit is irreversible.
There are top scientists in America and Britain—talented, creative people, desperate to escape the redneck bigotry of their home countries. Dear New Zealand, you are a deeply civilized small nation, with a low population in a pair of beautiful, spacious islands. You care about climate change, the future of the planet and other scientifically important issues. Why not write to all the Nobel Prize winners in Britain and America, write to the Fields medalists, Kyoto and Crafoord Prize and International Cosmos Prize winners, the Fellows of the Royal Society, the elite scientists in the National Academy of Sciences, the Fellows of the British Academy and similar bodies in America. Offer them citizenship. The contribution that creative intellectuals can make to the prosperity and cultural life of a nation is out of all proportion to their numbers. You could make New Zealand the Athens of the modern world.
Yes, dear New Zealand, I know it’s an unrealistic, surreal pipe dream. But on the day after U.S. election day, in the year of Brexit, the distinction between the surreal and the awfulness of the real seems to merge in a bad trip from which a pipe dream is the only refuge.
Richard Dawkins, founder and board chairman, Richard Dawkins Foundation
President-elect Trump's upset election caught many by surprise. We have not heard very much from him or his colleagues on his views on science and basic research, so I can only say that I hope that he recognizes the long-term value of basic research investment and will support the agencies of the U.S. government that support and pursue it, including the National Science Foundation.
—Vint Cerf, chief internet evangelist, Google
Like many, I was caught off guard by these election results. It is the will of the U.S. people, and given the polarity of the power, we can anticipate a number of significant and long-lasting changes. I do think that given the reality of today’s world and the checks and balances built into America, that exactly how these changes will play out is to be determined. I anticipate that many will be surprised by what can be done, and what cannot be done within government. I personally was born into poverty, and everything I have accomplished I did on my own. The best way to maximize professional success and rewards is to work hard; to maximize society is to be charitable; to maximize equality is to be ethical; to maximize peace is to be peaceful. I see myself taking more personal responsibility for the welfare of others close to me, and continue to be the best possible scientist, for what we are and what we will be is largely governed by the scientific discoveries that we apply to move humanity forward.
—Harold “Skip” Garner, Executive director and professor, Primary Care Research Network and the Center for Bioinformatics and Genetics, Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine
A smaller than projected voter turnout (approximately seven million Democrats and two million Republicans less than the 2012 election) was likely the cause of the outcome. Unexpected outcomes are part of scientific life and we are experts at learning from them.
—Michael Gazzaniga, director, Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara
Fundamental research, dealing with climate change and the environment, nuclear weapons treaties, international relations, women’s rights, health and welfare, and more generally, public policy based on empirical reality, all have been dealt a blow.
The president-elect has expressed disinterest or disdain for the results of scientific analyses relevant for public policy, and the vice president–elect has been an open enemy of science.
It remains to be seen how this will play out, but a Republican congress seems unlikely to put many checks on this.
—Lawrence Krauss, director, Origins Project, Arizona State University
Very, very surprised.
—Robert S. Langer, David H. Koch Institute professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
First, I think that the forecasting capability of the media and others involved in studying elections and the interaction of the social sciences is flawed. That's clear. Regardless, this is a strong country, a strong democracy with great intellectual capacity and good will, with a deep sense of human rights and social justice shared among the people. I think at the end of the day the American people, as a whole, will provide a good balance of judgment.
I think the issue of American international competitiveness in science, technology and arts research will continue to be a centerpiece of policy considerations going forward. Importantly, a number of Supreme Court justices will likely be appointed during the next administration, and with one party governing all aspects of the government—the legislative, judicial and executive—the influence on the judicial system and future development of a progressive social policy is of concern.
America's prominence and international influence is largely based on the prestige and trust the U.S. enjoys, in part a result of the last century’s contributions to advancing science, medicine, technology and the pursuit of social justice. Our position as trusted members of the global community must be maintained and improved if we are to positively impact global development for the benefit of our own citizens as well as those of the world.
—Robert E. Palazzo, dean, University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences
At this moment, November 9, 2016, I am sick in heart and spirit, bereft of even a shred of optimism.
All the ideals of the enlightenment on which our country was founded, all the principles of reason and open-mindedness that undergird the practice of science that we so fervently cherish, and to which we can rightfully attribute our progress in improving the welfare of humankind, have been effectively and thoroughly repudiated. The significance of the result of the election—that those opposing these beliefs will now either control or greatly influence every branch of the U.S. government—cannot be overemphasized.
It's a shutout.
In such a moment it’s natural to search the past for lessons. All successful civilizations throughout history have ultimately perished. Further, the evolution of our country's democracy is following an ancient script: the seeds of Trump's philosophical victory can be found in the very multicultural, multi-viewpoint, open-armed inclusiveness of the democratic ideal America has pursued since its beginnings.
In his article in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan finds in Plato's Republic, written 2,400 years ago, the view that a “rainbow-flag polity” is the most inherently unstable, and that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” It does indeed make you wonder if last night wasn’t inevitable.
My deepest worry is that this transition really could signal the end of the American Republic and the light it tried for 240 years, at least on paper, to shine on all the world.
What it means for the practice of science in this country, the rights of women and minorities, the future of our planet’s health, the survival of all the creatures with whom we share the Earth and for our relationships with other nations, I have no stomach to predict. But it does very much seem right now that the winning faction of the U.S. populace has decided that the Earth really is flat, and that will be the guiding principle for governance from this moment on.
—Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team leader; visiting scholar, University of California, Berkeley; director, CICLOPS, Space Science Institute
What is there to say? It's especially scary that there won't be separation of powers. It's also shocking (if the numbers are accurate) the percentage of women (and men) who voted for Trump. And of course science, climate, you name it ... you have to wonder.
—Lisa Randall, professor of physics, Harvard University
The one “plus” from this result is that reducing poverty may move higher on the agenda of the right as well as the left. But it should scare us Europeans into developing stronger and better coordinated pan-European policies to offer countervailing power to the U.S.
—Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics, Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge
This administration may be the least science- and science education–friendly one in generations. One possible nominee for the education department, Ben Carson, is a young-Earth creationist. Vice President[–elect] Pence has supported antievolution legislation in Indiana and has even pronounced evolution as unscientific on the floor of the House of Representatives. At the National Center for Science Education, we found that creationists are emboldened to act locally and at the state level when the “bully pulpit” of the presidency favors them—even if the federal government has little or no role in determining local curricula. Nominees for Energy [the Department of Energy], EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency], NIH [National Institutes of Health], NSF (National Science Foundation] and other agencies are likely to be equally problematic and, of course, many members of the administration have declared their rejection of climate change. Should they and their appointees act upon that belief, agreements made with China and other nations by the current administration are at risk—which means that the future of the planet is at risk. Science and science education did not come out ahead in this election.
—Eugenie Scott, founding executive director, National Center for Science Education
Science was sidelined during the presidential campaign and we will have to wait to see the science policy of the new administration with an open mind.
—Terry Sejnowski, professor and laboratory head of Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
When it appeared Trump would win, the Dow plunged 800 points in after-hours trading, and pundits predicted [Wednesday] would be the worst economic collapse since 9/11 and the 2008 meltdown. As I write this, the Dow is up 265 points, the NASDAQ up 43 points. Predictions are hard to make, especially about the future, particularly in elections and economics. With that caveat I predict:
Markets will be fine and economic growth will continue steady and may even improve one half to 1 percent in 2017.
No wall will be built on the Mexican border (and Canadians will not build a wall blocking us!).
We will not change our nuclear policies, we will not adopt “no first use” policy (as Obama did not either), and we will go another four years without using nuclear weapons.
North Korea ... oh who the hell knows what that wingnut will do, but very likely nothing will change and eventually the country will go out of business with their failing economy, and North and South Korea will reunite just like East and West Germany did.
Putin will hesitate to challenge NATO or take further territory in eastern Europe.
ISIS will be completely eradicated before the end of 2017, but global terrorism will not be, as no president or government can reduce it to zero, but it will continue to fail as a means of bringing about political change.
Tensions in the Middle East will continue as they have since I was in college and voted for the first time in 1972. Some things never change.
Stay calm everyone. We have a strong republic that will continue growing stronger. We have lots of checks and balances in place to prevent any extreme actions taken by anyone, and as Pres. Obama has been reiterating this past year to those pessimists who think things are bad and getting worse, this is and will continue to be the best time there has ever been to be alive.
—Michael Shermer, publisher, Skeptic magazine; monthly columnist, Scientific American; Presidential Fellow, Chapman University; author of The Moral Arc
Advancement of science transcends partisan boundaries and is fundamental for human health, and is a bedrock for U.S. technological advances and the economy. Hopefully, this will continue under any new administration. Although there is a rise in nationalism around the world, I think it is important that the international openness of science, its collaborations and its benefits be maintained for the benefit of all.
—Michael Snyder, professor of genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine
The main questions are whether Trump/Pence will 1) support science research as a core to the economic engine and American competitiveness and 2) use science outcomes to inform policymaking.
The rhetoric on the campaign trail implies “no” on both counts, but the desire to make good on campaign promises to promote our economic interests implies that they should.
—Michael E. Webber, co-director, Clean Energy Incubator, and associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin
It took the U.S. two decades to go from climate obstructionist to climate leader, and one ugly season to throw it away. Now we will see if we are truly a nation of laws and due process, or as weak as we tend to characterize some dictatorships.
I am embarrassed for my generation and am having trouble facing a younger generation that have very basic questions about our selfishness.
If there is a “silver lining” it is that we are a nation of strong institutions and now we shall see, are our ideals up to the task? My state of California—hardly popular to the Trump voters—offers a hopeful perspective.
The problem today is that the U.S. has truly “hit its stride” on climate, and, while also far from perfect, was progressing. Now, advocates of sustainability and intra- and inter-national equity and partnership must re-tool, but without any buffer or luxury of time.
Above all, this new strategy and route to integrate and partner must evolve fast, and must find common ground with an electorate infused with the sad anger and pessimism that led to the Trump victory.
What California—and Morocco, Kenya, Denmark, Bangladesh, The Vatican, Germany, Nicaragua, and others—offer are imperfect but very real examples that show that our energy and material system can actually evolve much faster than previously thought. It takes steadily evolving technology. But more important is the development of a coherent plan.
What we have just done is to steal from our children's future—and personally from my two dear daughters.
—Daniel Kammen, founding director, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, University California, Berkeley
This article has been updated to include comment from Daniel Kammen.