Science is not a partisan issue. Yet polarized views of science have emerged that seemingly back certain legislative agendas. Scientists, at one time, revered for their expertise and sought out for advice on policy, have been exploited to advance legislative agendas across the aisle.
During the Reagan presidency, Reagan initially refused to appoint a presidential science advisor, and used conservative science research to back notions such as creationism and fight industrial regulations such as healthy and safety requirements. While Rep. Newt Gingrich served as the Speaker of the House, he saw several different forms of scientific abuse, including over regulation of federal science agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and defunding the Office of Technology Assessment, a bipartisan congressional body that objectively assessed scientific research and funding. During the Bush Administration, climate change received a lot of political clout and was pushed back by the president himself. Now, the conservative Trump administration has sought to spread doubt regarding important issues such as basic research and climate change.
Perhaps the best example of science politicization is the recent nomination and confirmation of Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma governor, to head the EPA. One of the EPA’s biggest goals is to combat climate change, climate patterns that have been linked with increased carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles that use gasoline. The EPA has sought to regulate oil companies and cap carbon dioxide emissions to effectively reduce climate change. However, there has been extreme opposition from the Trump administration, including cuts in the budget for climate research and deregulating oil companies. Moreover, Pruitt, will likely aid and abet his mission.
Pruitt had maintained close ties to big oil industries such as Devon Energy during his time as governor, which was only revealed after his confirmation. Democrats sought to delay the vote, but the Republican-controlled Senate fought the delay, and the confirmation vote was kept as originally planned.
The push by Republican senators to confirm Pruitt before releasing potentially incriminating emails brings to question the Republican motive behind it. As head of the EPA, Pruitt’s responsibilities include protecting human health and the environment. But Pruitt’s close business ties with big oil companies make him a questionably unethical appointment. Furthermore, Trump’s potential science advisor, William Happer, has made public statements saying that carbon dioxide is good for the earth and that “climate so-called science is really more of a cult.”
Interestingly, both Happer and Pruitt are climate change skeptics. However, climate change skeptics are a minority of scientific researchers. About 97 percent of scientists believe that climate change exists and is due to human activity. This incorrect notion that climate change is a myth, as Trump has previously stated, or that it is healthy for the environment directly defies contradicts evidence that people can see with their own eyes, such as rising sea levels.
The Trump administration has continued the pattern for science abuse and politicization, even more publicly than any other conservative president. Trump’s new appointment and rumored appointment for science advisor, shows his refusal to listen to expert perspectives and sound science. Though science is built off of facts and peer-reviewed research, politicians are increasingly controlling the direction of science research and affecting which research is being communicated to the American people. As conservative administrations are increasingly steering scientific research, it is imperative that science remain bipartisan in its nature. However without funding and without a voice, who will scientists turn to?
Kandra is a chemistry and economics sophomore from San Antonio.