The next year, when John F. Kennedy was elected, Kistiakowsky wasn’t purged, or prosecuted, or denounced. He and Wiesner simply switched roles, and continued to meet with the new President. That surprised no one because, while scientists may have had political affiliations, science did not. In fact, while Wiesner served on Eisenhower’s science board, he became a central adviser to the Kennedy campaign. Nobody blinked. (Though he did promise to reveal no classified information.)
We live in a different world today, and science has become as horrifically politicized as any other aspect of American life. On April 22nd, Earth Day, tens of thousands of researchers and other scientifically minded Americans will express their fealty to reason, data, and, above all, the scientific method, by travelling to Washington and joining the March for Science. I understand the impulse, though I fear that, if the march is seen as little more than a crowd forming in the nation’s capital, it will come across as just another statement of vitriol delivered by Trump’s enemies. I have no problem with vitriol. But there is a genuine risk that the March for Science will be widely regarded as a manifestation of the great urban-rural divide that helped elect Trump. You know the story: those who say we must support science versus the many out there who insist there be no more tax dollars for rich urban élites.
One would have to be epistemologically blind to ignore President Trump’s contempt for fact, reason, and science itself. Like many journalists, and not a few scientists, I used to laugh at Trump’s aggressive ignorance. I am not laughing anymore. There was a time when I considered Ronald Reagan’s attempt to designate ketchup as a vegetable for school lunch programs as the height of callous ignorance. It almost seems quaint now. George W. Bush was guided more by faith and ideology than by science; his Administration opposed the HPV vaccine because, it contended, it would encourage premarital sex. Administration officials altered government Web sites to suit their political views. Again, that seems like the good old days. Despite such heavy-handed political interference, science has flourished, and, because it has, so have we.
It has been noted many times, most recently in this week’s magazine, that Donald Trump acts as though he despises the Earth itself. Every hour of his Presidency, our planet inches closer to ruin. Climate change is real, but so is the effectiveness of vaccines, which Trump has denigrated for reasons that mountains of data and years of study have demonstrated are not worth repeating. His proposed annihilation of the National Institutes of Health’s budget would devastate research in this country and turn promising students away from fields for which there will be no funding. His “plan” to repeal and replace Obamacare was not so much a plan as a tirade. Nobody who has even a glancing acquaintance with reality would act this way.