Double Whammy! Hurricane Harvey Hits as Scientific Advisors Continue to Resign

I.M.P.E.A.C.H. coded into science envoy to the State Dept. Daniel Kammen’s resignation letter. THERE’S a way to garner attention to what might otherwise be lost in the endless media Trump-eting. I.M.P.E.A.C.H. definitely got the attention it was seeking, and the timing of losing another science advisor as the first major national disaster hits the Trump presidency is disturbingly ironic.

 

Several scientist colleagues have been ominously predicting that a major natural disaster would inevitably strike during the Trump presidency at which point it would become painfully clear to the administration that disenfranchising scientists serving in public service roles was a bad idea. As Hurricane Harvey’s effects are beginning to be felt in the American south, I fear their predictions could be right.

 

Scientists, like public officials, serve a greater good, and circumstantial factors like the president must not impact that commitment to serve. Public officials work for the people, and scientists aim to advance knowledge with the ultimate end goal of ensuring credible science-based policymaking. Perhaps the practical and useful application of science is not always obvious or even promoted by the researchers, but ultimately science aims to dictate policies in a manner that is not influenced by subjective values. Credible science-based policymaking seems like a no-brainer for policymakers, given that the alternative is a spectrum of belief systems often at odds with one another. Science has always been a framework for policymaking that unites us all despite our many differences.

 

This is true even in regards to the very polarized arena of climate change. Where value-based policy recommendations harp on whether or not climate change is influenced by human activities (doesn’t matter!!), the serious threat from sustained storm surges following hurricane landfall is a matter of science. Natural disasters have very real impacts, and these impacts can be proactively mitigated against based on scientific models and projections. Rejecting science at the top tiers of government leaves a vacuum for information, and newly places science on the spectrum of viewpoints that it once aimed encompass. It’s somewhere leftish..,mid-left?… just left then.

 

This could explain why Trump has yet to appoint a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), who traditionally also serves as the president’s science advisor. Having this position empty along with a meager OSTP staff (currently 35 versus the previous administration’s 135) is especially jarring when prominent science related events transpire at a national stage. Who is explaining the science behind hurricane landfall and consequent storm surges to the president? Is science communication considered liberal and therefore irrelevant to the administration’s policy? De-neutralizing science is dangerous when it comes to federal policy responsible for lives.

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