An Open Letter to Federal Scientists in the Age of Trump

November 17, 2016 | 1:57 pm
An intern doing scientific research in a US Navy laboratory.Photo: John F. Williams, US Navy/CC BY 2.0, Flickr
Andrew Rosenberg
Former Contributor

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to tell you that I have great respect for scientists working for our federal (and state, local and tribal) government, and I believe we need you now more than ever before. I am not alone in this conviction. I have many colleagues who feel the same, in academia, and in public interest advocacy organizations. We all depend on you to do our own work.

Last week’s election was surprising and disheartening for many people, myself included. The aggressive, negative, and disparaging statements from the campaign of our now President-elect concerning women, Muslims, people of color, immigrants, the disabled, and members of the LGBTQ community attack us all and the society we have built. So, too, do the comments about all those who work in government, dismissing expertise and your commitment to strengthening, safeguarding and serving our country.

Like you, I am worried about calls for dismantling agencies that serve a vital mission in protecting public health, safety, the environment we live in and the society we prize. Unsubstantiated claims that the science supporting our public policies is wrong or biased are just as troubling—whether the debate is about climate change, the impacts of pollution or conservation of species and landscapes.

But I know, as I was once a federal scientist too, the care and hard work that goes into your efforts. I know the rigorous methods and scrutiny you work with every day.  In my experience every bit of scientific work in government is reviewed, questioned, challenged and revised to make it as solid as possible. While many outside government don’t see that process, I know as you do how important it is.

I have also heard the rhetoric about cutbacks for agencies, hiring freezes that would cut out new young scientists who are willing to go into public service, bringing their talents to bear for the good of the nation. And, there is too much talk of “attrition” of experienced career professionals. Many of you have worked for years in public service, creating the science we depend upon. Our Muslim or Hispanic or African-American or LGBTQ or disabled science colleagues may feel terribly singled out and unwanted.

But please know that there are many many people out here across our country, like me, who care about what you do. We have your backs. The Union of Concerned Scientists Science Network, 17,000 strong, stands ready to support you—all of you, as scientists, no matter your faith, heritage, or gender but because of the work you do. We will call out attempts to undermine your science, suppress the evidence or attack science and scientists. We will listen when you tell us of abuses of the science process motivated by politics. And we will bring our colleagues, activists and partners to help us fight back. Please join our network so you can be kept up to date on our work.

So, my colleagues, I humbly ask you to keep at it. Don’t leave. Don’t succumb to political pressure. Younger scientists, keep pushing. Government service is a place where you can do so much good work and have a fundamental impact on the world. Don’t let anyone dissuade you.