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The controversy goes on

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
February 6, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 6

The turmoil that dominated President Donald J. Trump’s week one in power has not diminished during week two.

In my editorial last week, I described some of the controversial events that took place during Trump’s first week: the Women’s March on Washington, the Greenpeace protest, and the nascent idea of a March for Science. Rather than seeing things settling a bit, Trump’s second week started with an immigration ban and was followed with, among other events, a vote designed to eliminate transparency of payments made by oil companies working with foreign governments and a leaked e-mail that speculates on the future of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The scientists’ march was sparked after reports of a series of mandates curtailing communication from scientists at scientific agencies. The date for the march has been set for Earth Day, April 22, in Washington, D.C. The march is supposed to attract anyone who “champions publicly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity,” according to the march’s mission statement, and so far it looks like there is strong support, with marches being organized in other locations and a following on Twitter in excess of 300,000.

But the event is not without criticism. Some critics feel that a march would further politicize science and drive a greater separation between scientists and media and the public. What are your thoughts on this? Is the March for Science misguided? Given the current environment, some may see it as a necessity.

While this was happening, Trump passed an immigration ban designed to prevent terrorist attacks that prohibits individuals from seven countries from entering the U.S. (see page 4). Opposition came from many areas. In the tech world, giants such as Apple, Amazon, and Expedia are considering or have already initiated legal action against the travel ban.

The American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN, and 151 other organizations representing a spectrum of professional societies, national associations, and universities sent a letter to Trump stating that they “are deeply concerned that this executive order will have a negative impact on the ability of scientists … to enter, or leave from and return to, the United States.” Such restrictions, they say, will “reduce U.S. science and engineering output to the detriment of America and Americans.”

That is a very real risk, and we may be underestimating the size of the gap in output, which may be greater when you consider not only the number of people directly affected by the ban, but also others who may be indirectly influenced. Besides deterring folks from those seven countries from traveling, the ban may also deter many more in other locations around the world who are fearful that the ban may expand or who will choose not to visit the U.S. based on moral principles. Whatever the case, it is likely that science in Europe and Asia may reap the benefits as alternative destinations for this scientific talent.

And the changes just go on: A few days after the ban was issued, when Rex Tillerson, former Exxon chief executive officer, was confirmed as secretary of state, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate a rule designed to provide transparency of oil and gas companies working abroad. Without the rule, these companies no longer need to disclose any payments, including royalties and taxes, made to foreign governments. And on the day this editorial went to press, an e-mail outlining a plan to dismantle EPA by 2018 was leaked to the Huffington Post.

So I’d like to finish by saying that C&EN will be faithful to our mission and will continue to report fairly and independently just as we have done in the past. Please check our website regularly for the latest news and to learn how these changes affect the chemical sciences.

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


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