It’s a Brexit World
(November 10th, 2016) On Tuesday night, an extravagant entrepreneur became president elect of the United States - Thoughts from a Central American postdoc, who recently moved to Texas.
Europeans could explain it like this: “it’s the same as the Brexit thing”. And just like with the Brexit vote, the result of the elections in the USA is a hard pill to swallow, too. I only know that the city I live now in, Dallas, was won by Hillary and that I’m an immigrant postdoc in Republican Texas. My landlord and my Uber driver must be celebrating the way things turned out. Historians just got served a big spoonful of material for their analysis and books, so that we can argue whether the rural vote overrode the cities’ will, or whether the older generations have decided the fate of their youngsters, again. As I watch the victory speech of President Trump at 2:00 a.m. in the living room, two questions crossed my mind: first, why am I not in the lab counting cells? And second, what was that thing President Trump said about research?
Science was a bit neglected in the presidential election campaign; I remember both Secretary Clinton and President Trump agreed clearly on at least one topic: Americans would like to go to Mars. Who wouldn’t? Funding for rocket science seems to be safe but what about other research topics, such as the gene editing system, CRISPR-Cas9. No one spoke a word on editing the genomes of human germ lines with the potential of a revival of eugenics. Probably because the FDA is not allowed to even consider making heritable changes in human embryos (federal spending bill), or because other issues are more pressing than whether or not to genetically modify human embryos. Just ask the new Vice President, Mike Pence, who has been an opponent of stem cell research, or his potential scientific advisor, “Dr.” Ben Carson, who likes to talk about creationism.
Global warming was described by President Trump on his tweet from 6 Nov 2012 as “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” - a statement he later withdrew but was consistent with his other tweet from 23 Apr 2012: ”Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people's health”. Such statements make me wonder: does this mean that funding for climate change research will decrease? And also, could it actually be possible that the good Chinese people created global warming, so that they can sell more of those beautiful wind mills they are mass-producing? President Trump has phrased some of the most interesting answers to questions pertaining the environment. When asked in a Scientific American article about his position on ocean health, and how 90% of fish stocks are depleted beyond sustainable levels, he managed to answer the question without using the words ocean, fish, fisheries, coral reefs or coastlines, which is quite a feat.
One thing is for certain, if president Trump goes ahead with what he promised at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference this year and withdraws the USA from the Paris climate accords of 2015, a lot of passionate environmentalists will be dismayed. Many clean energy investors will think again and perhaps put their money on Alzheimer’s Research, a disease that President Trump claims to be “a total top priority for me” as his father suffered from this disease.
But beyond all these tweets and imputations, the real question is whether the $32.3 billion for biomedical research from the National Institutes of Health during the 2015–2016 fiscal year will be available throughout the next four years… or eight. No one knows but at least Trump has some relief for foreign students: “If we allow individuals in this country legally to get their educations, we should let them stay if they want to contribute to our economy. It makes no sense to kick them out of the country right after they achieve such extraordinary goals.” My fellow postdocs and I will wake up tomorrow under the assumption that this statement also applies for non-citizen scientists, in general, and for our budgets, too.
A “thriving market system” is the solution most repeated by President Trump when it comes to choosing the best energy sources for the future. As a cell biologist, I'm not sure what a “thriving market system” is but it sounds like the global banks going berserk, once again.
Trump has finished his victory speech now and there’s no mention of prosecuting Secretary Clinton for not knowing how to delete emails properly; on the contrary, he came downstairs, with his family and a message of unity, being grateful for the service Secretary Clinton has done to the country. I guess that means he’s not really going to repel Obamacare on day one…. I’m sleepy, but before I switch off the TV and go to bed in very silent West Dallas, I suddenly recall his words on research: “Science is science and facts are facts”. I’m too tired to figure out, again, what that means for us scientists in the United States of America.