Trump Presidency Could be a Significant Change for Science

President-elect Donald J. Trump is a bit of an enigma on science, in part because the campaign was short on policy discussions. The only information about his views on research was provided in response to twenty questions posed by Science Debate, which the American Institute of Biological Sciences helped to prepare.

Trump’s responses were peppered with positive statements, such as “scientific advances do require long term investment,” and “Though there are increasing demands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget, we must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous.”

But these sentiments were seemingly contrasted by other responses. “In a time of limited resources, one must ensure that the nation is getting the greatest bang for the buck,” Trump wrote. “We cannot simply throw money at these [research] institutions and assume that the nation will be well served. What we ought to focus on is assessing where we need to be as a nation and then applying resources to those areas where we need the most work. Our efforts to support research and public health initiatives will have to be balanced with other demands for scarce resources.”

Trump called freshwater possibly “the most important issue we face as a nation for the next generation.”

Of note for the scientific community, however, was a reinvigorated skepticism of climate science: “There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change.’” When asked about the rapid loss of biodiversity, Trump responded about overreach of unelected officials writing regulations. His response on maintaining American leadership in innovation focused on the role of businesses and ignored the fact that the federal government is the largest provider of funding for basic research.

Trump has previously called for taxes to be lowered and for non-defense spending to be cut. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that by the tenth year of Trump’s plan, non-defense spending would be 29 percent lower than current levels, after accounting for inflation.

Some experts, however, urge caution in reading too much into Trump’s prior statements.

“As someone who spent 15 months researching Trump’s past statements, if anyone says they know what a President Trump will do they’re lying,” tweeted CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski.

As President, Trump could look to increase spending on infrastructure and the military, and building a wall along the Mexican border. Congress, however, may be a roadblock to significant new spending.

According to Representative Dave Brat (R-VA), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus: “Yes, there is an inevitable clash on fiscal issues because of the leadership we’ve had over the past 20 years who have led us into $19 trillion in debt. Right now, there are no easy answers. And I will continue to push everyone to define pay-fors [spending offsets] on everything moving forward.”

One possible source of savings is a hiring freeze in the federal government. President-elect Trump wants to reduce the size of the federal workforce through attrition. “This is a road that many prior presidents have been down, without success,” said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. The federal workforce is currently about the same size it was during the early 1960’s at 2.1 million civilian employees.

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President-Elect Trump on the Environment

In 2012, Donald Trump famously tweeted that: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He also said in 2015 that climate change is “a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, okay? It’s a hoax, a lot of it.”

Given these past statements, what might the nation expect during the Trump Administration in regards to environmental protection and regulations?

“I think there is a real risk a Trump administration would be science-unfriendly,” said Chris Field, a climate scientist and director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “[T]here is a sliver of opportunity for a conversation about how science and technology can be real keys to the agenda Trump obviously emphasized: making the U.S. competitive on the global stage.”

Trump has pledged to undo the Clean Power Plan, the rule put in place by the Obama Administration to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Legal experts say that there are three ways to do it: create a new rulemaking to revoke the existing standards, allow the Supreme Court to kill it, or let the Republican-held Congress amend the Clean Air Act to bar regulation of greenhouse gases.

Trump has also said that he would end U.S. participation in the global climate deal, which recently went into effect. But Todd Stern, the former U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, who helped to broker the Paris Agreement, said that candidates’ statements during a campaign are not always consistent with their actions once in office. “I’ve seen administrations come and go, and the fact that there were some applause lines tossed out there on climate doesn’t necessarily mean that he, for example, pulls out or walks away from Paris…although he might.”

There is also the complication that the international agreement has a binding four-year withdrawal process. Even if President Trump withdraws from the agreement, the U.S. would still be legally bound to fulfill its commitments or it would break international law. But President Trump and Republicans in Congress could withhold funding for international climate adaptation programs. The U.S. had promised $800 million a year for the least developed nations to cope with the impacts of climate change.

During his campaign, Trump promised large funding cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), although no details were ever provided. Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a well-known climate skeptic, to lead the EPA transition team.

Another hint of what is to come can be found on the newly launched Trump transition website, which states that: “America’s environmental agenda will be guided by true specialists in conservation, not those with radical political agendas. We will refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.”

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115th Congress Will Have Many Familiar Faces

In spite of fundamental political change coming to the White House, Congress will largely be unchanged for the next two years. Last week’s election resulted in very few congressional seats changing parties. The Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate (New Hampshire and Illinois) and at least six seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans retain majorities in both chambers, although with smaller margins.

Seven new members will join the Senate. Six have already won their races. The results of the Louisiana race will be determined in a runoff election in December, but neither candidate is an incumbent. More than 50 new members will join the House.

The freshman class of the 115th Congress adds some diversity to the body. Among the freshmen members is the first Hispanic woman elected to the Senate, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) will be the first woman and the first African-American to represent Delaware in Congress; only two other states have never elected a woman to Congress. The number of female Senators will reach a record high of 21. A record of 48 African-Americans and 39 Hispanics will serve in the 115th Congress.

Committee leadership will largely remain the same, especially for many of the committees with jurisdiction over science. The leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees; the House Natural Resources Committee; the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will likely not change.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) will stay on as leaders of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Long-time committee member Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) is retiring. Two Democrats on the panel lost primary races for Senate seats and will be leaving Congress. There may be other turnover in committee membership, as the panel is one that most lawmakers are eager to leave in pursuit of more powerful committees.

Ranking Member Johnson pontificated that Chairman Smith may change gears during Trump’s presidency. “He’s primarily been focused on investigating the Obama Administration over the past couple of years, using his expanded subpoena and deposition powers. I would imagine that there will be much less interest on his part in carrying out a similar investigative agenda against a Trump Administration. I thus am hopeful that the Chairman will return the Committee to a constructive legislative agenda that advances our nation’s research, development and innovation enterprise.”

The House Appropriations Committee will have new leadership. Current chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) is facing a term limit of six years per Republican caucus rules. Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)—the current chair of the Defense Subcommittee—is likely to be promoted to full committee chair. This could cause a ripple of changes in the leadership of other subcommittees. It is speculated that John Culberson (R-TX) will remain at his current post leading the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee. The ranking member of that panel, Mike Honda (D-CA) lost his race for reelection and a new Democratic leader will need to be selected.

In the Senate, Thad Cochran (R-MS) is likely to stay on as chair of the Appropriations Committee. Several Democrats are interested in serving as Ranking Member, a position that will be vacated with the retirement of Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) are reported to be vying for the position. Mikulski also served as ranking member of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over science. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is rumored to be interested in the position. One committee member, Mark Kirk (R-IL), lost his reelection.

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) will likely be the new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The current chair, Jim Inhofe (R-OK), is term-limited. The ranking member slot is also open due to the retirement of Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

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AIBS Statement on U.S. National Election

The following statement was offered by AIBS interim co-executive director Robert Gropp:

The American Institute of Biological Sciences congratulates all of the individuals who ran for an elected office during this election cycle. Regardless of whether they won or lost, their willingness to stand for office is a symbol of their commitment to the nation.

The U.S. government’s history of supporting investments in scientific research has long been an important engine for our nation’s economic growth. Vetted scientific information provides a sound foundation from which informed decisions about public policy can be made. Scientific collaborations have also played an important diplomatic role in bridging divides between cultures and countries.

A sustained national commitment to science is a national interest.

We at the American Institute of Biological Sciences are committed to the advancement of the biological sciences for the benefit of science and society. We stand ready to work with all of our nation’s policymakers as they strive to solve the complex problems facing our world. We also strongly encourage President-elect Trump to make the appointment of a respected scientist to serve as his science advisor a top priority of his transition.

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Expand Your Broader Impact Skills: AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’ highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

The Boot Camp is an intensive, two-day, hands-on training program that will be held in Washington, DC on 27-28 February 2017. Please note that registration for the December workshop is full.

Participants will learn:

  • How to translate scientific findings for non-technical audiences
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview, including broadcast interviews
  • How to prepare for and engage in a meeting with a decision-maker
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • What policymakers want and need to know from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Participants will also have the opportunity for formal and informal discussions with science policy and communications experts working in Washington, DC. A course outline is available here.

AIBS Individual Members and individuals nominated to participate by an AIBS Member Society/Organization receive a $75 discount on registration.

Learn more about the program and register now at

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Apply for the 2017 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? Applications are being accepted for the 2017 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on April 25-26, 2017. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2017 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners, honorable mentions, and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on 9 January 2017. The application can be downloaded at

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MacArthur Fellows Class of 2016 Includes Three Biologists

MacArthur Fellows Class of 2016 Includes Three Biologists

Biology made a strong showing in the announcement of this year’s MacArthur Fellows Program grant recipients, with three biologists being selected for this prestigious award:

  • Dr. Dianne Newman is the Gordon M. Binder/Amgen Professor of Biology and Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. Dr. Newman’s research into ancient bacteria and their metabolisms has not only advanced our understanding of early Earth biology but also has resulted into insights into modern biomedical research on certain drug-resistant pathogens.

  • Dr. Victoria Orphan is the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. As a geobiologist, Dr. Orphan has conducted groundbreaking research into deep-sea microbial communities, especially those involved in the methane oxidation process that plays an important role in reducing methane in the atmosphere.

  • Dr. Manu Prakash is an assistant professor in Stanford University’s Department of Bioengineering. His expertise is in physical biology, but he has also made a name for himself as an inventor, designing devices to aid resource-poor communities to conduct important scientific endeavors, such as the Foldscope, a foldable, mass-producible paper-based optical microscope, and an inexpensive microfluidic chip to aid in screening mosquito bites for pathogens.

The MacArthur Fellows Program rewards people of extraordinary talent and promise in their field with a five-year grant to help them continue their pursuits. More information on the MacArthur Fellows Program can be found here.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to to get started.

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