Monday, October 26, 2020

US Elections 2020: Is it Trump versus Science?

“If you vote for Biden, he will surrender your jobs to China. He will surrender your future to the virus. He’s going to lockdown. This guy wants to lock down. He’ll listen to the scientists.”

That last sentence, I think, takes the cake.

US President Donald Trump’s warning that his rival presidential candidate will “listen to the scientists” and that it could be detrimental to his country, must be taken with a pinch of salt; or, perhaps, with some icing on top.

A 2017 Picture of scientists taking to the streets of Boston

In his rally, on Sunday 18 Oct 2020, at Carson City, Nevada, – as the US elections-fever has reached hotter levels - Trump, fighting for re-election, created a huge furore as he mocked Biden’s willingness to consider scientific evidence.

Interestingly, just a few days earlier to Trump’s statement, had published an article with the title “Trump has shown little respect for U.S. science. So why are some parts thriving?”

According to the article, two of USA’s preeminent scientific bodies, National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, have issued an uncharacteristically harsh rebuke. Their statement, dated 24 September 2020, did not name Trump. But it was clearly aimed at him.

“We find reports and incidents of the politicization of science, particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists, to be alarming.”

It was a covert allusion to current leadership and its unwillingness to listen to the governments’ own public health officials and scientists.

On 7 October 2020, the 208 year old scientific journal NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) did something it had never done before.  The apolitical journal suddenly published an editorial with political comments.

A total of 34 editors of the journal had signed off an editorial blaming the current leadership of the USA, for listening to ‘charlatans’ and not to ‘scientific evidence’.

They wrote: “Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed 'opinion leaders’ and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.”

Another journal, on 1 Oct 2020, announced that it favours Joe Biden. It said:  “Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

“The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science”.

Even earlier, on 2 September 2020, a total of 81 Nobel laureates announced their support for Biden saying, "At no time in our nation's history has there been a greater need for our leaders to appreciate the value of science in formulating public policy."

Donald Trump has, quite clearly, rubbed the scientific community on the wrong side. And his denial of the value of science could cost him his reelection.  

A group called ‘Scientists for Trump’ which was very active in the 2016 elections is now lying low.  And I read an article which called the phrase an oxymoron!

His leadership is blamed not only for the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation but also for encouraging it.

Cornell University researchers, after analyzing 38 million English-language online articles about the pandemic, said this: "We conclude that the President of the United States was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation 'infodemic’ (The New York Times, 30 Sept 2020).

A pdf file of the report is here, for those interested.

Furthermore, Trump’s pulling out of the Paris climate change treaty, the Iran nuclear deal, and the World Health Organization show him as anti-science.

So, now, can these angry scientists win?

We must wait and watch.


Additional Reading:

  1. How Trump damaged science — and why it could take decades to recover
    (Nature, 7 Oct 2020)
  2. CORONAVIRUS MISINFORMATION: Quantifying sources and themes in the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ (Cornell university research)
  3. Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden
    (ScientificAmerican, 1 Oct 2020
  4. Study Finds ‘Single Largest Driver’ of Coronavirus Misinformation: Trump
    (The New York Times, Updated: 22 Oct 2020)