This Saturday, scientists and science advocates from all walks of life will converge on Washington, D.C. and in cities throughout the country to draw attention to the need for evidence-based policies. As the only PhD physicist in Congress, I will march as a concerned member of the scientific community, not as a congressman. Science, logic, and truth should not be partisan issues; they are the cornerstones of fields that have made the United States a leader in innovation and a better place for everyone to live.
The Trump administration’s policies threaten this leadership. The president’s anti-science policies began on the campaign trail when he called climate change a hoax, directly contradicting decades of climate science data and research and instilling a falsehood as fact to millions of Americans.
As president, Mr. Trump has stacked his Cabinet with individuals who have either actively worked to undermine the agencies they now lead or have demonstrated a willingness to wipe out federal funding for science entirely. At the time of his nomination to the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt had repeatedly sued the agency for its regulations. Mick Mulvaney, now head of the Office of Budget and Management, caused controversy last fall when he openly questioned the need for any federally funded research at all. Scientific discovery requires sustained funding for decades, and politicians can destroy it in a single budget cycle.
The president’s proposed cuts to the budget will significantly harm our long-term national interests. His FY18 budget proposal would slash funding for the EPA by 31 percent and the Department of Energy by 20 percent. The National Institutes of Health, which conduct cutting edge research on diabetes and dementia diseases, would lose six billion dollars. This money would go a long way to find treatments for diseases that will greatly affect our aging population and are extremely costly for Medicaid and Medicare.
These actions are the culmination of Republican attacks on science and research. In the U.S. House of Representatives, I serve on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee where few of the committee hearings are actually related to science. Just last fall, a Republican witness who was called to testify before our committee insisted that it was a matter of scientific debate whether it would be harmful if the Greenland ice sheet melted.
In science, the declaration of a false statement would end your career. Today, many politicians knowingly make false statements on the campaign trail for their short-term political benefit. These promises based on false facts lead to policies based on false science that become detrimental to the long-term vitality of our country.
If we choose to ignore science and refuse to fund important scientific research, we voluntarily cede our place as a world leader in innovation. Scientific advancement has given our society a standard of living that was unimaginable for many generations. Science has improved public health, taken us to the moon, and allowed us to understand the origins of our universe. It also has given us the tools to solve problems now instead of reacting to them after it is too late.
Climate change denial and budget cuts to critical science funding puts us dangerously close to an outright rejection of the expertise of scientists and the knowledge that centuries of scientific inquiry have yielded. The Science March is a call to academics, universities, experts, and anyone who values education to stand united against this wave of ignorance, lies, and disregard for facts for the next generation.
Citizen involvement in support of science doesn’t have to start with running for high political offices. We need people at every level of government to advocate for evidence-based policies, science and education. Science advocates can run for their local school board or city council, or simply request a meeting with their member of Congress.
Until the Trump administration changes course significantly, we must work together to bridge the divide between academia, education and policymaking. This administration’s decision to ignore the science will not absolve them of responsibility. Our actions will have a lasting effect and history will judge us more kindly. See you at the March.
Rep. Foster represents the 11th District in Illinois. For over twenty years, he worked as a high-energy physicist and particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and was a member of the team that discovered the top quark, the heaviest known form of matter.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.