Wednesday, October 23

Why Trump’s Ideas on Science ​Are Illogical and Dangerous

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With less than a month until Inauguration day, Donald Trump has already provided us with an insight about what his administration is going to be like: Scary. Specifically, the views of Trump and his government officials on science are utterly concerning: denying climate change, supporting the idea that vaccines are related to autism, denying the theory of evolution by natural selection, and arguing against environmental regulations and climate agreements – all just a few of the anti-science claims that Donald Trump and his soon-to-be government officials have made. Recently, the Trump transition team sent a questionnaire to the US Energy Department asking for names of employees who have attended meetings on the social cost of carbon and burning of fossil fuels. Some have called this an “unusually detailed questionnaire” which raises a number of questions about what the Trump administration intends to do with the questionnaire’s results.

Regarding climate change, Donald Trump has been anything but consistent with his views on how and to what extent human activities cause climate change, and it is less than clear on where he stands on the issue. He has gone all the way from declaring that climate change “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”, to saying that “nobody really knows” if climate change is real or not. Unbeknownst as it seems to the US President-elect, however, climate change is a fact, and opposing facts and well-established scientific truths can lead us to previously undiscovered and unexplored territories on which opinions matter when deciding on government policies. When dealing with facts, however, opinions should not and do not matter.

Sadly, that’s not how Donald Trump sees climate change. In fact, Trump’s administration team seems to include more climate change denialists and anti-environmentalists than any of the previous administrations. Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, has been named by Donald Trump as his nominee for the US Secretary of State. In May 2016, a shareholders meeting of ExxonMobil was held in which some shareholders tried to pressure the company into changing its policies to be more environmentally friendly. Rex Tillerson’s response was: “The world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not.”

Another issue the meeting focused on was how the company would choose to handle the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is an agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to deal with climate change and greenhouse-gas emissions. The Paris Agreement was signed last year by 194 UNFCCC members. One of the Agreement’s aims is to keep temperature rise below 2OC in an attempt to reduce global warming effects. Nevertheless, Donald Trump has made clear claims that he is going to cancel the US participation in the Paris Agreement and “stop all payment of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” In addition, Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, the current Attorney General of Oklahoma, and Rick Perry, who served as the governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015, as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and as Secretary of Energy, respectively. They have both been accused of denying climate change and have both repeatedly spoke against the EPA.

In response, 376 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel laureates, have already published an open letter to Donald Trump in an attempt to draw attention on the issues that climate change poses and the serious consequences that ignoring environmental agreements can have on the United States and consequently to the whole world. Moreover, something else that sends some positive hopes is that 71% of Americans support the position that the United States should remain and fulfil the terms of the Paris Agreement. Nevertheless, it unfortunately rests on Donald Trump and his administration to what extent they will consider the worries and suggestions of scientists and other Americans. At this point this does not look very promising.

What is more, another fact that requires careful consideration is that Mike Pence, the US Vice President-elect, has made claims that the theory of evolution by natural selection is “just a theory”, stating that he “embrace[s]the view that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that’s in them.“, essentially declaring himself a creationist. As a matter of fact, Donald Trump received 78% of the evangelical vote on the November elections. No space and time is going to be wasted in this article to explain why the theory of evolution by natural selection is not “just a theory”. The only thing that required to be said once again is that the term “theory” has a different meaning in everyday language and in the scientific world. In the scientific world, the term “theory” does not refer to opinions, guesses, views and does not conform to any ideologies or schools of thought. A scientific theory is well-supported by scientific evidence conducted over a period of decades or even hundreds of years, and is being tested over and over again. A scientific theory, then, must be falsifiable and testable. Something the “theory” of creationism is not and thus fails to even count as a possible counterexample to the theory of evolution by natural selection. Another worrying fact on the issue is that Donald Trump met with creationists Ben Carson and Jerry Falwell Jr on his quest to decide on the new Secretary of Education, before settling for the conservative Christian businesswoman Betsy DeVos whose family is a big donor in the Family Research Council, an organisation opposing gay rights and abortion rights. It’s therefore nothing less than disturbing that the Trump administration sees education as an institution that can be infiltrated by ideas which are not established on facts or scientific theories but are merely opinions and only serve to spread hatred and misanthropy throughout the school community.

Another aspect of Trump’s positions that is now clear that will be embodied into his administration is his views on the link between vaccines and autism. To be short and concise: There are no links. The evidence for a link between vaccines and autism is not only insufficient but essentially non-existent. Donald Trump, however, has made a number of claims linking vaccines with autism, and other bad science claims, and backed the anti-vaccine movement in their statements which encouraged parents to not vaccinate their children. Donald Trump’s relation to Andrew Wakefield, the man who helped the anti-vaccine movement to spark in the early 21st century is remarkably worrying. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a study which claimed to discover links between vaccines and autism. Later that year, it was found that he had made everything up and that his paper was full of false claims. He was then banned from practicing medicine in the UK. Despite the fact that the paper does not include any facts at all and that it was a fraudulent paper, the anti-vaccine movement strongly bases its claims on that paper. Andrew Wakefield is not unknown to Donald Trump. In August, Donald Trump had attended a fundraising event with Andrew Wakefield for organisations within the anti-vaccine movement and there are even claims that during the Trump administration bonds with the anti-vaccine movement will be strengthened.What we must take stock of is how  concerning  it is when someone makes claims that are not backed up by any experiments and are not even testable or falsifiable – that is, they are empty of anything that may give them a scientific identity. What is even more concerning however, is when these claims are made by a person who will soon lead, admittedly, one of the world’s superpowers. Science is where superstitions and bold statements are eliminated and reason emerges. It’s not wrong or immoral that Donald Trump does not endorse science; it is illogical and dangerous.

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mm

Angelos is a Philosophy (MA) student at the University of Durham, UK. He writes on philosophy, religion, politics, and science.

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