U.S. science community reacts to Trump Administration | January 30, 2017 Issue - Vol. 95 Issue 5 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 95 Issue 5 | p. 15 | News of The Week
Issue Date: January 30, 2017 | Web Date: January 26, 2017

U.S. science community reacts to Trump Administration

Reported restriction on communication of federal science sparks blowback
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: policy, Trump, science, protest, hiring freeze
The planned March for Science is being compared with 2013 demonstrations in Canada like this one held in Ottawa.
Credit: Kevin O'Donnell
Photo show scientists holding signs in a demonstration in Ottawa, Canada, in September 2013.
The planned March for Science is being compared with 2013 demonstrations in Canada like this one held in Ottawa.
Credit: Kevin O'Donnell

Scientists and science advocates are among millions expressing concern over U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s first days in office.

Some moves by the Administration will affect chemists, especially those working at federal agencies. News reports about orders that allegedly restrict communication of federal science as well as a presidential directive that halts hiring of scientists and others drew reactions ranging from concern to outrage.

The biggest backlash was to widespread media reports that many agencies, such as EPA, NIH, and the Department of Agriculture, were ordered to halt communication, including distribution of scientific results.

Andrew A. Rosenberg, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science & Democracy, says it’s not unusual for a new president to review the policies and procedures of previous administrations. However, these actions appear to go beyond the standard set by previous administrations, he says. The Trump Administration “should agree that it’s important for the public to hear from scientists.”

It’s not clear how many of these actions are coming from the White House directly as opposed to from Trump’s transition teams in each agency or from permanent staff. In some cases, no restrictions have been placed at all. NIST, for example, was not asked to change how it communicates its science as of Jan. 25.

Scientific societies urged the Trump Administration to clarify its intentions about communication. The American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN, said it is “monitoring, with concern, reports stating the Trump Administration is changing scientific communication policy and grant procedures.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science pointed out that the reported moves to restrict communication would violate agency policies meant to protect scientific communication. “Many federal agencies have existing scientific integrity policies that prohibit political interference in the public dissemination of scientific findings,” says AAAS CEO Rush Holt, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Scientists were up in arms on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media about the Administration’s reported actions. A proposed demonstration called the March for Science attracted over 150,000 Facebook followers in its first two days. No date has yet been set for the event, which is to take place in Washington, D.C., and across the U.S. On social media, some compared the proposed demonstration to 2013 pro-science marches in Canada that were prompted by a muzzling of government scientists under conservative former prime minister Stephen Harper.

As one of his first official actions, Trump froze hiring for federal workers who were not in the military until the White House comes up with a plan to reduce the civilian workforce through attrition. It’s unknown how many open positions that action might affect. Several hundred jobs that mention chemistry were listed on the federal hiring website USA Jobs as of Jan. 25.

The hiring freeze could significantly impact postdoctoral students. Only 20% of the National Postdoctoral Association’s 80,000 members end up in academic jobs, says Julie Fabsik-Swarts, the organization’s executive director. So a freeze on government hiring could make finding a position more difficult.

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Rosanne Savol (January 27, 2017 11:29 AM)
The Trump Administration is a totalitarian dictatorship and must be stopped.
M. Isler (March 10, 2017 4:19 AM)
Simply displaying my ignorance, but I cannot help commenting that I was familiar with the acronyms for NIH and EPA as a chemist, but not, - to my shame, - with NIST. A wiki-search taught me better. I would have appreciated the longer name first, as with AAAS, with which I'd been familiar again.

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