David NNP/Shutterstock

Trump's Contempt For Science Endangers US National Security, Says Science Committee

"Frankly, this is very dangerous for our country."

CARLY CASSELLA
25 JAN 2018
 

Well, it's 2018 - one whole year after President Trump's inauguration - and there are still a ton of science advisory positions that remain empty at the White House.

According to members on the House Science Committee, the unprecedented decision (or lack thereof) is jeopardizing US national security.

 

You've probably never heard of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), but it's super important. OSTP is the epicentre of science and technology at the White House, informing government policy and practice on a variety of national security issues.

Yet even though the law requires it, under the Trump administration OSTP still has no official mandate or director. In fact, President Trump has taken longer than any other modern President to nominate someone for the directorship.

Members on the House Science Committee have complained about this situation before. In May of last year, they wrote an open letter to the President, beseeching him to appoint a Director to the OSTP as soon as possible.

"Until the OSTP is adequately staffed and the director position filled by a qualified, objective scientist who understands the difference between alternative news peddled on alt-right websites and legitimate well-vetted scientific facts, we fear that you will continue to be vulnerable to misinformation and fake news," the representatives wrote.

Apparently, their message didn't get through. So now, eight months later, they are trying again.

 

The newest letter, obtained by PopSci, argues without scientific advisors, President Trump endangers US national security.

"Sound scientific and technology advice is indispensable to US national security and economic growth, and to forming federal policies that help drive the kind of research and technological advances that made this country great," the members wrote.

"Despite its importance to the safety and prosperity of the country, however, a year into your term, OSTP remains without a Director and has one third as many staff as it had under President Obama."

In a recent New York Time's editorial, former OSTP Director Neal F. Lane explains that the OSTP provides crucial information which has helped previous presidents handle national security crises, including 9/11, the anthrax attacks, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the outbreaks of Zika and Ebola, hurricane devastation and cyberattacks.

But no big deal, right?

"Today, the O.S.T.P. maintains only a skeleton staff led by the deputy chief technology officer, Michael Kratsios, a technologically inexperienced Silicon Valley financier holding just a bachelor's degree in political science," Lane wrote.

 

Not only has OSTP been described as a ghost town, many of its most necessary functions have ceased to exist. For instance, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which helps address antibiotic resistance, cybersecurity, climate change and agricultural preparedness, has all but disappeared.

"No president in recent history has needed a capable science adviser more, while apparently wanting one less," Lane added.

Members on the House Science Committee highlighted Trump's recent tweet about climate change as proof that he seriously needs scientific guidance.

"This tweet betrayed a total ignorance of the difference between climate and weather, and also of the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement, from which you decided to withdraw the United States last year," the representatives wrote.

The tweet is made even more ridiculous by a recent study from NOAA and NASA that found 2017 to be one of the top three hottest years on record. And as for December? The new study found last year's final month to be the warmest in the entire 138-year record. Incidentally, both NOAA and NASA currently lack official directors.

 

The letter goes on to criticize Scott Pruitt's decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan, described as "the centerpiece to our national strategy to confront climate change," and Trump's decision to remove climate change from his national security strategy, "even though military leaders say that climate change and its geopolitical fallout represent a clear and present danger to this country."

Still, it's very unlikely Trump will ever read the letter. Thanks to a new and unprecedented White House policy, the President no longer reads Congressional letters unless they come from the committee chairperson. In this case, that chairperson is Representative Lamar Smith, and – surprise! – he's a climate denier, too.

Bill Foster, one of the co-signers and the only Congressman with a PhD in physics, told PopSci he is deeply concerned by the President's lack of direct science advice.

"Frankly, this is very dangerous for our country," he said.

"There's a real danger of an emergency coming up where the President does not have an adviser on hand who understands the scientific implications. I hope we don't face that, but I worry what will happen if we do."

You can read the full letter, obtained by PopSci, here.