Trump presidency leads to uncertainty for future of science

Credit: Anna Boyle/ Credit: Anna Boyle/

Recent events have led to many questions about the future of our country, one major question being: What exactly does the Donald Trump presidency mean for the future of science and technology in the United States? Trump’s personal quips on the subject seem at best immature, simple, and uninformed, and at worst anti-fact. Yet, the forces and motives that have led to his unprecedented presidency are complex and nuanced, and paint an uncertain picture of the future for science in the United States.

On one hand, there are many signs that we are entering a dark age of scientific Armageddon. Trump has put a prominent climate change skeptic in charge of his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team, and has publicly questioned climate change himself. He has supported claims that vaccines cause autism, and in general has expressed contempt for the scientific community. There is ample evidence that a Trump presidency could lead to a decrease in both funding and respect for science in America, and possibly in the world. This may be the tipping point for global catastrophes such as climate change, and this election will forever be remembered as the beginning of the end.

On the other hand, such fears may be somewhat alarmist. In fact, in many ways Trump could act as a catalyst to a certain type of scientific and technological progress in the United States. Trump rose to power because of a nationalism that — while in many ways is fearfully similar to the jingoism that beget Nazi Germany — is also not unlike the American fervor that propelled the United States scientifically and technologically after the second world war. For example, the 1960s space race that led to an acceleration of technological innovation was very much fueled by a nationalist and globally competitive atmosphere. This type of research — large, flashy, and militaristic — may be perfectly in-sync with Trump’s (and more importantly, Trump’s supporters’) agenda.

If marketed correctly, investment into clean energy could capture America’s imagination the way the space race so classically did. Currently, China is leading the world in clean energy research by a significant margin. If Trump and his supporters do truly wish to dominate China in all manners, we must increase expenditure in clean energy technologies. If the motive is spun not as an attack on fossil fuel industries, but rather a rejuvenation of American might, clean energy research could potentially receive a boost.

Yet, this could all be overly optimistic thinking about an administration that has great disdain for scientific inquiry, particularly climate change. While we may see growth in showy and defense-focused research, funding for fundamental climate research could wane, not unlikely funding cuts for stem cell research in the George W. Bush era. In fact, countries such as France have threatened to place tariffs on U.S. goods if the U.S. refuses to address climate change. This, coupled with Trump’s predilection for isolationism, could destroy the global competitiveness of American products (not to the mention the environment as well). As many articles on the subject have espoused, we honestly do not know exactly what Trump means for the future of science and technology. In this scenario, the only thing that is truly certain is uncertainty.