If Trump had been president

In 1804: “The proposal for a military Corps of Discovery to undertake an exploration of the continent to the west is denied. Knowledge will come when it will come.”

In 1820: “It has come to my attention that, under the Army Reorganization Act of March 3, 1815, the Ordnance Department of the U.S. Army has at some point begun the development of machine tools capable of manufacturing standardized interchangeable parts for machinery of various types. This is plainly outside the role of the War Department, and I hereby direct the end of this activity. There is a plentitude of private engineers who can accomplish this work.”

In 1943: “This U.S. Army contract with the University of Pennsylvania School of Electrical Engineering for the development of a general purpose computing machine is ordered canceled. On another matter, the program for the distribution of ’penicillin’ by the War Production Board is not a proper role for government. In both cases, these functions should be left to the private sector.”

In 1957: “We choose not to go to the moon. Sputnik is a triumph of Russian research, but its practical applications are yet to be shown, and it is not our job to make work for liberal, ivory tower professors.”

Donald Trump is plainly contemptuous of science, as well he might be given his method of reasoning. He settles on a conclusion that fits his resentments and prejudices and then assembles evidence to support that conclusion. We often feel the United States is being held hostage to one man’s animus and angst in a way it has not experienced since Richard Nixon. Why did no one get Trump into treatment years ago?

A decade ago, when another appointed president was conducting his own war on science, scientist Donald Kennedy said, “Not only does the Bush administration scorn science, it is subjecting appointments to science advisory committees and even study sections to political tests.”

Trump blathers about “America First” but follows policies that hamper our competitiveness and scientific progress. And we really have no idea whether he means what he says. After all, the man has changed his positions on dozens of issues since becoming president, and his anti-Paris speech, for all its verbal certitude, was filled with weasel words—”could, “likely,” “reportedly,” “reportedly,” “could,” “could.”

Author Chris Mooney (The Republican War on Science) told us 12 years ago that “the 21st century is widely expected to be the century of dramatic advances in biology and biotechnology—genomics, proteomics, etcetera, you know. And the fact that we are systematically misinforming our students about biology is not going to equip them well to compete in this new century” (“Where it leads,” RN&R, Sept. 15, 2005).

Science in political hands is always risky, and national progress often falters when it happens. Science in such unsteady, uninformed political hands is even worse. They will hold the U.S. back.