We scientists make decisions carefully, thoughtfully and analytically. It's time Donald Trump and his administration did the same.
Whether you are a scientist or not, you can't dismiss the rigorous way scientists attempt to establish truth. We observe and ask questions based on what we see, including whether the observation is really happening. We make educated guesses about the answers and then have a rigorous method of testing to see if our answers are correct.
After our own testing, to ensure that all is done well and the information we have obtained is valid, it undergoes another rigorous process known as peer review before our data are published in a reputable scientific journal. In peer review, anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen scientists who are experts in the same field review the information in the study. This ensures that testing or experimenting and the analysis have been done correctly and sufficiently. Peer reviewers reject papers more times than they accept them for publication, and most of the time, even if a paper is accepted, it is accepted only if the author is willing to make corrections suggested by the reviewers.
Here are two specific examples of scientific truths, both rigorously tested by scientists, which have been rejected by the Trump administration.
First, some of the best scientists in the world have published well over 100 articles in reputable journals demonstrating that there is absolutely no link between autism and vaccines. (By the way, most of the authors of these articles have no association with vaccine companies or with vaccine production.) And yet, in early January, President Trump reportedly spoke with Robert Kennedy Jr., a vaccine skeptic, about heading up a committee to investigate vaccines and their possible association with autism. Such a committee would fuel an unscientifically based debate, which, in turn, will cause many parents to resist having their children vaccinated, putting them at risk of contracting serious disease and our whole population at risk of epidemic.
The second example is President Trump's decision to prevent scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from discussing agency research or departmental restrictions with anyone outside of these agencies — including discussion with the news media. Not only is this a restriction of free speech, it demonstrates that the Trump administration is not interested in expert opinion but more interested in selectively publicizing information. This is convenient for an administration that doesn't believe the science that supports climate change, which includes science that generated over 12,000 peer-reviewed publications last year alone, supporting the truth of climate change.
This convenient suppression of speech comes in the wake of President Trump's nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Mr. Pruitt sued the EPA in 2011 in an attempt to stop the "good neighbor rule," which reduces pollution that crosses state lines. He went to court to block policies to reduce toxic mercury, arsenic and acid gases from power plants. He is a climate change skeptic who doubts "the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind." Despite evidence that Mr. Pruitt is, in fact, anti-environmental protection, he was confirmed by the Senate last week.
Democrats had sought to delay the vote after a federal judge ruled a day earlier that thousands of emails related to Mr. Pruitt's communications with fossil fuel companies must be turned over, but Republicans pushed the vote forward.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat told Politico that Republicans "will rue the day that they had this nomination rammed through the Senate." I fear we all will.
President Trump, you should know that we scientists will not tolerate your opening the door to making national decisions based on "alternative" facts, which we know is code for "false." We will not allow non-truths to guide decisions associated with development and use of medicines such as vaccines, which save millions of lives each year. We will not allow you to influence needed legislation to curb the burning of fossil fuels in an effort to save our planet. We owe this stance to our children and grandchildren.
We make our decisions carefully, thoughtfully and analytically. It's time you and your administration did the same.
A.J. Russo (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Mount Airy, and is a visiting assistant professor of biology at Hartwick College. He expects to be among thousands of scientists marching in protest against President Trump's policies on Earth Day, April 22, in Washington D.C.