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Policy

Science absent from State of the Union

Some science supporters are angry that research was ignored

by Andrea Widener
January 31, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 6

Credit: Associated Press
Trump giving his first State of the Union speech.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s first State of the Union speech yesterday touched on many of the major issues facing the nation, from the economy to immigration. But it barely mentioned science.

Past presidents have proposed major research projects or investment in their State of the Union addresses. In his 80 minute speech, though, Trump only mentioned the word science once, to praise Americans’ creativity.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU) both issued harsh statements criticizing Trump’s failure to acknowledge science or its role in country in the address. ACS did not comment on the speech.

“We are frustrated by the disregard for science shown by the U.S. administration,” AAAS CEO Rush Holt said. “Our economy depends on innovation, science and technology, which should be top priorities for any nation’s leader. As other countries increase their attention to and investments in science and technology, the U.S. will make falling behind a new reality.”

AGU CEO Chris McEntee went further, saying that the lack of science in the State of the Union was “not unexpected, given the actions taken by agencies this past year that have hindered scientific research, threatened scientific integrity, and stifled the open communication of science.”

“It is at our peril when top officials in this administration passively or aggressively ignore science, and now more than ever, it’s time for us all to demand that our elected leaders stand up for science,” McEntee added, noting that Trump has yet to fill many key science positions in his administration.

Trump did edge into the periphery of science in his speech. He praised his administration’s regulatory rollbacks in the energy sphere, saying “we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.” He advocated for dying patients to have easier access to experimental drugs. And he promised to make “the injustice of high drug prices” a top administration priority, though he didn’t say how he would lower drug costs.

A few of Trump’s proposals could potentially effect science, including plans improve the nation’s infrastructure and move away from a lottery-based immigration system. But those changes will be tough to push through a deeply divided Congress.

On the budget front, Trump called for lifting spending limits known as sequestration—but only to increase defense spending and boost the nuclear arsenal. He did not suggest lifting the limits on nondefense spending, which includes most research agencies.

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