The Year in Science Policy

How a new administration in the U.S. affected scientists around the world throughout 2017

By | December 15, 2017

KERRY GRENSScience policy and other governmental actions that affect science, while barely getting a mention during the presidential debates of 2016, have been catapulted to the front page this year. On April 22, thousands of scientists and science supporters took to the streets for the first ever March for Science. For many, it was their introduction to advocacy, fueled by concerns over the newly inaugurated president’s attitude toward research—data on climate change, in particular.

Since then, a number of policy moves have affected the domestic and global scientific community. Here’s our roundup of 2017.

Travel and immigration

A number of government policies didn’t target research specifically, but affected scientists nonetheless. The federal travel ban blocking residents of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. left scientists uncertain about their career prospects and collaborations in the States.

See “Scientists Concerned About Future of International Collaboration

For researchers from the affected countries who wouldn’t be able to fulfill work plans in the U.S., scientists across the globe opened up their labs. EMBO helped organize an online matchmaking list so stranded scientists could find colleagues in other countries with a spare bench.

A separate travel restriction implemented by the US government in July prohibited Americans from visiting North Korea, preventing a delegation of professors from Columbia University from forging scholarly relationships with counterparts in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

A couple of months later, President Trump called for an end to the so-called Dreamers program, also known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay and work. The Scientist spoke with several Dreamers from the science community about the program’s end will affect them.

See “Scientists Fear DACA Cancellation

Meanwhile, Europe continues to deal with last year’s Brexit vote. Although the U.K. won’t leave the European Union until 2019, the move is already affecting the scientific community. Not only could British researchers lose EU funding, but collaborations appear to be suffering. Some welcome news arrived this month when the U.K. announced that Europeans living there can stay after Brexit, affecting thousands of immigrant scientists.

See “Scientists’ Expectations for Brexit Mostly Grim

Science on a budget

ISTOCK, USCHOOLS

While federal investments in research tend to garner bipartisan support, President Trump’s budget proposal took deep swipes at science-funding agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Congress bucked the President’s request for the most part, opting to develop budget proposals that boost research funding instead.

Controversial personnel

Scott Pruitt, EPA administratorFLICKR, GAGE SKIDMORE

President Donald Trump’s choices for the heads of various science-related federal agencies have met no shortage of criticism. In addition to the scandals whipped up by Sam Clovis, a former nominee for a key US Department of Agriculture scientist position, and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, the prevalence of administration appointees who don’t buy the evidence for human-caused climate change has been seen as an affront to the scientific enterprise.

See “The Biggest Science Scandals of 2017

Scott Pruitt, who leads the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Energy Secretary Rick Perry, NASA administrator–nominee James Bridenstine, and others are not convinced humans are driving climate change. (In line with a disregard for the evidence in favor of human-induced climate change, Trump disbanded a climate change advisory committee at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August.)

Elsewhere, a number of science leadership positions remain vacant, and the president has yet to hire a science advisor. Earlier in the year, The Scientist spoke with two scientists whose names had been floated as possible advisors, David Gelernter and William Happer, but still no one has been tapped for the job.

Science censorship

ISTOCK, DANGRYTSKU

Late last year after Trump had been elected, librarians, scientists, and computer programmers set out on a mission to archive government data, fearing that environmental programs—and their related data—might go unattended with the new administration. Their concerns were not unfounded, as climate change–related pages of government websites began disappearing in 2017.

Other moves by the EPA this year have carried a whiff of science censorship. Over the summer, Pruitt put a political appointee in charge of reviewing grants. In the fall, the agency prevented several of its scientists from speaking at a conference.

Out of Paris, into France

WIKIMEDIA, US EMBASSY FRANCE

France has seized upon the US government’s about-face on climate change from the last administration. Shortly after President Trump announced this spring that he would pull the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, French President Emmanuel Macron launched the “Make Our Planet Great Again” initiative to poach researchers from abroad. More than 1,000 US researchers applied, and among the first 18 recipients announced this month, 13 are based in the states.

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