Editor's comment: We need STEM experts now more than ever…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 December 2020

US election 2020_Trump vs Biden_shutterstock_1724296963_580x280
US election 2020_Trump vs Biden_shutterstock_1724296963_580x280

By the time you read this, it should hopefully be clear who the next President of the United States will be. As I wrote this, in the days following November 3rd's US election, it looked like former Vice President, Joe Biden & US Senator Kamala Harris had defeated the incumbent 45th POTUS, Donald Trump & Vice President Mike Pence – though not by the landslide some predicted.

A version of this editorial was originally featured in the December 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

If that’s true, this election – as some would argue the last one did – could end up having far-reaching consequences for science, engineering and technology…

While any group in the population will always contain supporters across the political spectrum, there is evidence that many in the scientific community were hoping the Trump administration would not secure re-election – with several scientific journals, in an unusually partisan move, recently coming out in favour of change.  

Scientific American recently endorsed Biden, despite never before having backed a candidate in its 175-year history, writing in its editorial: “The evidence and the science show that Trump has badly damaged the US and its people – because he rejects evidence and science”. Similarly, The New England Journal of Medicine took a step unprecedented in its 208-year history of condemning one candidate and endorsing, at least by implication, another, writing in its editorial: “When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them, and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans, by allowing them to keep their jobs.”

Meanwhile, in a scathing editorial entitled “Trump Lied About Science”, Holden Thorp, Editor-in-Chief of Science wrote: “The administration, and  the President in particular, have undermined science every opportunity that they’ve had.” Thorp goes on to condemn Trump for intentionally misleading the American public about the severity of the pandemic, before also noting that he has consistently proposed sizable cuts to science funding. “Thankfully, folks in Congress don’t agree with him about that, but that’s not something that the President deserves any credit for,” Thorp wrote, adding that Trump’s rhetoric “has undermined everything that science has said, except when he wants to use it for his purposes.”

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

It’s perhaps not surprising that the scientific community might look favourably on a candidacy that has promised: “Science will be at the heart of our administration.” His transition team is already seeking input  on how to rebuild and expand US research, and Biden has promised to fight climate change and use scientific research and advice to tackle the pandemic.  But many also believe a more fundamental issue – respect for science in government (and by extension, among the public) – is at stake in this election.

By contrast, Trump’s administration has repeatedly questioned scientific consensus on issues like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, denying, downplaying and blatantly disregarding scientific evidence – undermining science and scientific institutions. As well as reported efforts to interfere in scientific decision making, many advisory committees comprised of outside experts have been sidelined or eliminated. Funding has been cut and priorities shifted. And immigration, including the high-skilled and student immigration the research community depends on, has been restricted. The US has become increasingly isolationist and protectionist in its foreign and trade policy (such as Trump's trade war with China), as well as on international research co-operation and global initiatives like the Paris Agreement (which Trump took the US out of).

And while it might be tempting to think this just affects the US, of course, the ripples impact STEM communities and economies globally – both directly (trade and international co-operation) and indirectly. Here in the UK, Trump’s presidency has coincided with an anti-‘expert’ rhetoric, often directed at those in the scientific community. Hopefully, as his era draws to a close, this is an opportunity to rebalance the scales – because we will certainly need scientists, engineers and other experts to help rebuild the UK economy post-COVID-19…

EPDT December’s issue also contains features on RF & Wireless technologies and Consumer applications, as well as EPDT's latest edition of its bi-annual IoT & Industry 4.0 supplement. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

Mark Gradwell


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