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by Donna Hahn
Friday, May. 12, 2017 at 4:18 AM
Thousands upon thousands of researchers demonstrate for the freedom of science and research funding. Public policy isn't a wrecking-ball or a sledgehammer. Democracy isn't following autocratic orders without compromise, negotiations and countermeasures
A GENERATION IS LOST
MARCH FOR SCIENCE AGAINST DONALD TRUMP
By Donna Hahn
[This article published on 4/20/2017 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.taz.de. In the election campaign, Trump called climate change an invention or fabrication. US scientists now take to the streets because of reduced funding. Translator's note: Progressives are fighting back. The EPA budget was only cut 1%, not 31%.]
New York, taz. Three months after Donald Trump's assumption of office, the Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) on the fourth floor of the Eisenhower-Executive-Office-building directly next to the White House is largely empty. Only one lonely young political scientist sits where up to January 2 three dozen high-tech experts and scientists reflected on artificial intelligence, climate change, the consequences of an oil plague in the Gulf and containing the latest Ebola outbreak and formulated recommendations for the president.
Michael Kratsios is a former colleague of one of Trump's biggest backers, the Californian Peter Thiel. Kratsios who worked in investment businesses and banks has no experience in the technical realm and could not participate in the morning briefings of the political decision-maker. He also did not play any part in the discussions about Trump's deep cuts planned for the research budgets in health, energy and the environment.
While expert consultation did not occur in the White House, thousands upon thousands of researchers marched outside. Many of them were already horrified when they heard Trump's anti-progress and anti-science slogans about climate change as a "Chinese invention" and conditions for environmental- and workplace safety as "obstacles for the economy."
Fear spread at the universities and in the high-tech businesses of the country when Trump announced a travel ban on persons from seven predominantly Muslim countries a week after entering the White House. Long prevented by courts, a travel ban would endanger the stay of thousands of foreign researchers and make impossible recruiting new talents in the rest of the world.
EPA BUDGET CUT
Since then, the White House had more bad news for research. The worst news was Trump's budget draft presented in March. The president wants to cut the budget of the environmental authority EPA 31 percent (or $5.7 billion) and dismiss a quarter of its 15,000 employees. He wants to pay the National Institute for Health (NIH) 18 percent or $6 billion less and bump off the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Board (NOAA). "We will save and work more efficiently," he said. His research program is: "We will do more with less."
MARCH FOR SCIENCE; WORLDWIDE PROTESTS FOR SCIENCE
In the US: On Saturday, April 22, people will take to the streets for the freedom of science and against "alternative facts" in Washington D.C. and other US cities. The demonstrations should set a sign against Trump's policy that denies climate change and seeks to cut the budget of the American environmental authority EPA a massive 31%.
In the rest of the world: Demonstrations are announced in more than 500 cities, 20 of them in Germany. In Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Gottingen, prominent scientific organizations like the Max-Planck society, universities, and politicians support the protests. In Berlin, mayor Michael Muller (SPD) participated.
On April 22, the "Day of the Earth" proclaimed by UNESCO, when experts pleaded for more environmental- and climate protection, US researchers in Washington and many other US cities demonstrated against their president. Researchers who usually concentrate on their measurements in the laboratory or seek funding for their work and keep away from political activities wore buttons and T-shirts with slogans like "Science, not silence" and "Stand up for Science."
"We still hope Congress will block the cuts," earth researcher Natassa Romanov described the mood. "If that does not happen, it will be dramatic." She teaches at Columbia University in New York and researches at the Goddard Institute of NASA on the carbon cycle in the oceans and interaction with the climate. In the 1980s, the former head of her institute, James Hansen, was one of the first scientists who warned of the dangers of global warming. He was a key figure in the climate movement.
Under ex-president George W. Bush, the lobby of the oil- and other fossil fuel industries tried to cut federal funds for climate research. But that did not have a majority in Congress. Since then, the majorities there have changed in their favor. Many research areas will be impacted if the cuts remain. In January, individual universities already put new hires and the recruitment of scientific assistants on ice since they don't know whether they will receive the necessary federal funding in October when the new budget year begins.
"DEVELOPING TALENTS TAKES A LONG TIME"
At George Washington University in the US capitol, the neuroscientist Kevin Pelphrey fears "the government may abandon autism research." In California, neuro-biology professor Ben Barres at Stanford University warns a whole generation of scientists could be lost because "developing talents takes a long time." Dangers also threaten water protection projects and archaeological excavations.
In his assumption of office, the new head of the environmental authority EPA, Scott Pruitt, gave a sample of his scientific skepticism. At the end of March, he rejected the prohibition of an insect-repellant. After a five-year study, researchers of his EPA authority concluded that chlorpyrifos applied in agriculture since 1965 in the US and worldwide can have harmful effects on the brain – both on learning capacity and on the memory – and recommended a prohibition. The corporation Dow Chemical that sells the insecticide under the brand-name Lorsban argued against the ban. Then EPA director Pruitt decided: "We must continue to research th
is." This means concretely Lorsban will still be sold until 2022.
Most researchers in the US have a skeptical waiting attitude. They still work on their projects. However, Trump's austerity measures could trigger an exodus from state-financed institutions. Earth researcher Romanov hopes they and their colleagues will find alternatives at private universities in the US.
Recruiting researchers has already started outside the US. In an English-language video, the French president-elect Emmanuel Macron said: "Come to France. You can continue your climate research with us."
When – and whether – important advisors will come to the OSTP office created in 1974 is open. The White House says Trump has qualified candidates in mind but doesn't name any names. This was fundamentally different with his predecessor Barack Obama. In the election campaign, he already had a great team of scientists and technological advisors who followed him in the White House in January 2008.
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