If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Predicting science policy under the new Administration

by Donna Nelson, ACS Past-President
January 9, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 2

Credit: David McNeese
A photo of Donna Nelson.
Credit: David McNeese

With the new Trump Administration entering office, conventional political wisdom is changing, and it is still too early to know exactly what that means. Nevertheless, many scientists are asking what the implications for science will be as a result of the changes in Washington, D.C. What will ACS’s priorities be, and how will the society interact with the new Administration?

President-elect Trump has been appointing his cabinet, and he is reportedly seeking counsel, studying areas of concern, and evaluating various ideas in making his decisions. The President-elect has shown that he changes his mind about people, policies, and ideas, so initial or previous discussions about topics should not be considered final.

The above activities do little to clarify his positions or thoughts on science. On Dec. 1, 2016, ACS hosted the webinar, “Looking into the Crystal Ball: Government, Politics, and the Chemistry Enterprise.” Although we cannot know future science policy, available information enables some predictions.

Considering Trump’s recent statements

President-elect Trump’s answers to the 20 questions posed by offer some insights, with the obvious caveat that he might change his mind. Patterns in his answers reveal that they can be roughly sorted into three categories, revealing his approach to the following 20 topics:

1. Let market forces prevail (innovation, research, energy, nuclear power, food, global challenges, space, and immigration).

2. Determine how to distribute limited resources (free internet, mental health, public health, water, vaccination, and opioids).

3. Discuss the issue with interested parties (climate change, biodiversity, and scientific integrity). Importantly, these three controversial topics are planned for discussion, for which we should prepare.

Three of the topics—ocean health, education, and regulation—fall into multiple categories.

Considering recent cabinet appointments

Some information about President-elect Trump’s future science policy can be gleaned from his cabinet picks. His appointment of successful businesspeople to some cabinet positions brings hope for policies that will stimulate the economy, stimulate industrial growth, and increase the need for employees. His cabinet appointments suggest a favorable posture for all energy sources, especially oil and gas, which would benefit downstream products and chemicals, increasing employment in the chemical sector.

Our recent President’s Task Force on Employment in the Chemical Sciences (2015–17) compared the number of chemists seeking jobs with the disproportionately smaller number of jobs available. Members of the task force discussed ways to strike a balance, such as reducing the number of chemists by either dissuading students from seeking degrees in chemistry or reducing the number of foreign scientists coming to the U.S. to obtain degrees or pursue jobs in chemistry. Both of these solutions are problematic.

Chemists have long assumed that growing the chemical sciences industries enough to significantly increase the number of available jobs is unattainable. We have not considered this a viable solution because, for many years, we viewed the jobs situation through a stagnant economy. But if the economy is stimulated, perhaps there will be sufficient growth in the chemical industry economy to enable this more desirable solution.

Scientists’ message to President-elect Trump

We must ensure that Trump, his appointees, other policy-makers, and the public recognize and appreciate the value that science brings to the world. Science, technology, and the people practicing them are responsible for virtually all of the recent benefits and improvements in our lives. This is the justification for increasing funding for scientific research and education, so we must ensure that everyone knows this to generate support for science.

For science to maintain its solid foundation, be universally and highly respected, and remain reliable for the future, scientists must continue to ensure the integrity of scientific facts, peer review, and basic research in the scientific method.

Prepare to assist policy-makers

President-elect Trump must finish the urgent task of filling his cabinet positions. However, he knows that science is critical to many areas he has designated as important, such as innovation, national security, and the economy, and it is certain that he will focus on science soon. In the meantime, we should be patient and prepare a list of science issues and goals, so that when the future President and his Administration request scientific guidance and information, we will be ready to assist them. The chemistry community can help by doing the following:

1. Prepare to discuss the broad range of global issues, such as climate change; energy; cyber security; biodiversity; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; advanced manufacturing; and opioid addiction.

2. Develop the agility to respond rapidly, clearly, directly, and respectfully when the Administration needs assistance.

Finally, as always, I would greatly appreciate your e-mailing me your thoughts, ideas, and concerns at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.