Dokken: It's Not Rocket Science

Trump’s reelection poses a major threat to science.

by Natalie Dokken | 10/12/20 2:00am

Even before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Donald Trump had a strained relationship with science. The president regularly tweeted claims that global warming was a hoax, that vaccines caused autism and that energy-efficient lightbulbs cause cancer — all of which are wholly unsupported by scientific evidence.  

Perhaps then, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when Trump began campaigning, and eventually took office, he would defer to that same dismissive and misleading attitude toward science. Yet in the wake of a global pandemic, record-setting wildfires out West and one of the largest data breaches in history, it should be obvious just how dangerous having such a scientifically inept president can be. 

While it is not fair to place all of the blame for these events on Trump, it is fair to criticize how his administration has responded to them. For example, in a September briefing concerning the numerous wildfires in the West, Trump explicitly rejected the idea that climate change was to blame for the unprecedented intensity and volume of the fires. Instead, the president cited poor forest management as the sole cause of the fires, which is simply untrue. Research overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that the total area burned in the West over the past few decades is almost double the size of what it would have been in the absence of climate change. 

In terms of the pandemic, the Trump administration’s response has been nothing short of abhorrent. Besides Trump’s constant dismissal of the efficacy of mask mandates and social distancing requirements and his encouragement of anti-lockdown protests, Trump has perpetually failed to treat COVID-19 like a credible threat, claiming that it will disappear “like a miracle” and “go away without a vaccine.” These claims are, of course, false, and COVID-19 continues to pose significant public health risks in the United States. Its death toll surpassed 200,000 last month — the highest death toll of any country — representing more than 20% of the world’s cases, despite the United States only making up 4% of the world’s population. 

From the thousands of homes burned, hundreds of thousands of lives lost and millions of people who are still out of a job, it is fair to say that Trump’s hostility toward science has come at a high cost. But an often-overlooked consequence of Trump’s baseless, unscientific claims are the ways in which they distort the public’s trust of science itself. 

Trump’s approach to science is distinct from that of his predecessors and peers. He is not merely ignoring scientific fact when politically convenient, an unfortunately common phenomenon among politicians. Rather, Trump calls into question the credibility of the institution of scientific fact itself, dismissing scientifically-sound claims as no more credible than his own unresearched ones.

As president, Trump occupies a position of immense influence and authority, which means that the claims he makes matter. By continually undermining the credibility of scientific experts and replacing scientific facts with fear-mongering rhetoric, Trump causes the public to begin to lose their sense of trust in scientific institutions and more generally, the scientific process. These institutions, albeit flawed, are necessary to establish an objective baseline understanding of the world around us. This understanding is paramount to keeping people healthy, our environment clean and our digital world moving.  

As we have seen over the past several years, when people start questioning the legitimacy of science and turn to their own biases and assumptions to craft their perception of the world, the consequences are dire. It is how we end up living in a world where even the fact that we are living through a deadly global pandemic is controversial, where climate change is no longer a fact but a left-wing conspiracy — a world in which facts themselves are turned into a matter of opinion and politics. 

To that end, this election is not just a choice between Democrat or Republican. Rather, it is a choice between an unscientific, fear-driven world and a fact-based, logic-driven one.
This administration has persistently and unabashedly attacked the institutions of objectivity, fact, and reasoning at the expense of people’s lives and our country’s economic well-being — and there is not a doubt in my mind that, if reelected, Trump will default to this same reckless and dangerous rhetoric. 

It is paramount that we make our voices heard and stand up for science by voting Trump out of office. The health and legitimacy of our scientific institutions, and of our nation, depend on it.