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Armstrong: Standing up for science this presidential election

By John Armstrong - | Oct 21, 2020

I’ve always been extremely proud of the scientific legacy of the United States of America.

Some of my pride comes from our long history of accomplishments — from landing on the moon to eradicating polio — but I am far more enamored by the institutions we’ve developed to keep those accomplishments coming. Whether it is NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the National Institutes of Health, or the Centers for Disease Control, the United States represents the pinnacle of scientific achievement.

At least, it used to. Over the last four years, and especially in the last eight months, the United States has lost its reputation for global leadership in science and technology. This is something I could have predicted. When your elected president believes climate change is a “hoax” and proceeds to appoint people to lead scientific agencies based on political favors rather than expertise, you expect that to have an impact.

His cabinet started with undermining the scientific community on issues related to climate change. It continued by ignoring scientific advice and putting polluting industries in charge of reviewing regulations, and it culminated with the administration’s disastrous response to the worst pandemic in 100 years.

While this can be laid at the feet of the unqualified appointees of this administration, simple incompetence would at least be understandable. But Donald Trump’s daily undermining of the efforts of the scientific and medical community is inexcusable.

Consider for a moment the state in which we find ourselves. CDC scientists, who literally wrote the book on pandemic preparedness, are routinely ignored by the president, leading the U.S. to have 25% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths, even though we have only 4% of the world’s population.

It is heartbreaking, not only because we have endured casualties equivalent to one 9/11 every three days over the last eight months, but because the CDC is still staffed by the most talented and dedicated scientists in the world, and all that expertise is wasted when it is continually tossed aside by the administration.

I’m not alone in making this assessment. As Scientific American wrote, endorsing a presidential candidate for the first time in its 175-year history, “The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science.” The journal Science published an editorial with the headline “Trump Lied About Science.” Both Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine have endorsed Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden, for president.

I’ve done my best to keep politics out of this space, except, inasmuch, as I’ve held forth on policies related to climate change, and I hope it goes without saying that the opinions here are mine and do not represent the views of Weber State University.

But as a scientist, I have to stand up for science.

If we wish to maintain our leadership in science and technology, and if we seek to repair the damage done to the confidence in our scientific agencies, we cannot afford another Trump administration. While my view doesn’t carry the weight of my esteemed colleagues, I must endorse Joe Biden for president. From the perspective of American science, he is simply the only choice. With a Biden administration, bipartisan legislative priorities such as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act will have some hope of passing.

Please understand, this is not a partisan endorsement. My endorsement doesn’t come from a desire to see a Democrat in the White House. This comes from a desire to restore a measure of thoughtfulness and seriousness to the presidential administration, something shared by every president in my lifetime, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. I want someone in charge of our nation who takes seriously the importance of our leadership role in science and understands that objective reality does, in fact, exist.

When we elect a national leader, we are also electing his or her administration. Regardless of your feelings on the specific policies, one thing is certain: Joe Biden will appoint competent and professional individuals to lead our national agencies. A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for an administration that will again listen to scientific expertise.

The leadership the U.S. has enjoyed in scientific and technological advancement simply can’t survive another four years of Donald Trump.

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