Your Profoundly Disturbing Yet Hopeful Thanksgiving Reading List on Science and Democracy

November 22, 2016 | 12:26 pm
Michael Halpern
Former contributor

The past two weeks have brought significant change and significant uncertainty about the future of science and democracy under a Trump administration. What will be their governing philosophy? Will they make good on candidate Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” and reduce the influence of corporate lobbyists in Washington? What lessons can we draw from history in the new political era?

In a piece I wrote for The Guardian last week, I shared some of my thoughts about the need for scientists to engage—but not appease—the Trump administration. We’re hosting a webinar for scientists in a couple weeks to talk in more detail about what to expect in the new year. If you’re a scientist looking to learn more about how you can play a role in what comes next, RSVP here.

In the meantime, here is media from others that I’ve found to be impactful and that I think is worth your time, some hopeful, some quite troubling. Click on the links below as you travel to your final destination this Thanksgiving week.

NOAA scientists collecting data

Thousands of scientists are tuning in and pledging to hold the Trump administration to high standards–and to champion diversity within science. Photo: NOAA

President Obama is acting like he expects the best of President-elect Trump. We should do the same in science. Why? Because outlining our expectations about how his administration will treat science gives us the ability to hold him accountable should he not live up to them. Speaking of which, scientists can sign this letter from scientists to the incoming administration.

Five women scientists co-authored a powerful open letter from women scientists in the aftermath of the election speaking out against divisiveness and attacks on women and other marginalized groups and pledging to re-affirm our commitment to build a more inclusive society and scientific enterprise.” They released the letter on November 17 with 500 signatures. They now have more than six thousand. Keep it growing.

Andrew Rosenberg penned this letter to uneasy federal government scientists.

Young scientists in Canada wrote to their government to their government asking for more scientific rigor (or, in Canada, rigour) and transparency in its environmental and regulatory decision-making.

Beppe Severgnini, an observer of Silvio Berlusconi’s rule over Italy, has suggestions for a Trump presidency. Among them: don’t let his behavior distract you from seeing what he is doing on the issues, and fighting him on his personality will not work.

Preserving democracy, take a deep breath: Conferences—all of them—should make space to talk about democracy as authoritarian threats grow. President Trump will need a science advisor, and let’s hope he gets one. The media must “scrutinize, not normalize” abhorrent behavior by the president-elect and his advisors (hear, hear). People should worry about unchecked surveillance powers as well as the continued misuse of so-called national security tactics. The head of the National Press Club felt compelled to write the president-elect to plead with him to allow reporters access after Trump twice ditched his press pool. A NFL team executive believes that fans will be more likely to ignore the league’s manipulation of science around concussions because “Under Trump, the country will care less about truth or facts.” Investigative journalism will be critical. Facebook has little incentive to block fake news. Fake news about the U.S. election is proliferating in China.  (Several hat tips to Civicist, which also has a nice piece on building our civic muscles).

Reporters should "scrutinize, not normalize." And as industry representatives are appointed to lead agencies they want to paralyze and dismantle, the media's role is ever more critical. Photo: Alex Steffler/Twitter

Reporters should “scrutinize, not normalize,” even when more restrictions are placed on their ability to do their jobs. And as industry representatives are appointed to lead agencies they want to paralyze and dismantle, the media’s role is ever more critical. Photo: Alex Steffler/Twitter

The Corporate Cabinet, take a deeper breath: President-elect Trump claims he wants to drain the swamp of lobbyists; here’s a partial list of the lobbyists who are filling his transition team and appointments list. David Schnare, who makes a living taking coal money to attack scientists, is on the EPA transition team. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin turned to industry for talking points when faced with scientific evidence of a link between fracking and earthquakes; she’s in line for Interior Secretary. Harold Hamm, the billionaire oil magnate in the running for energy secretary, tried to get the scientists who did that research fired. Also in the running is Rick Perry, who once wanted to get rid of the Department of Energy but famously couldn’t remember its name. The fellow tapped to lead the State Department transition, Steven Groves, has detailed plans to leave the Paris climate agreement.

Congress is straining at the leash and pledging a full-throated assault on science-based regulations that protect public health and the environment, and wants to repeal as much of the progress made during the Obama administration as it can. “Buckle up,” says Mike Pence to Congress on the need to cut environmental and public health protections. (Funny, really, because seatbelts are one of the most successful, life-saving regulations of all time). It’s going to be a long, long crumbling road ahead.

Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator provides sage advice: “Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.”

On cynicism: I recently returned to a piece I wrote a few years ago on lessons I learned from Woody Guthrie about the toxic effects of cynicism on our ability to change the world. I hope it does you some good.