The Hill: We still need to march for science

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Today, thousands of people will once again take to the streets to march for science. For many Americans, science makes us think of test tubes in high school chemistry classes or a cool space documentary on Netflix. But science and logic have impacted our lives in ways that we often do not notice. That’s why as the only PhD physicist in Congress, I have spent my time in Washington fighting back against the Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle the scientific progress we have made due to decades of sustained federal investment in scientific research and education.

Our country has benefitted from lawmakers and political leaders who took their duty to the American public seriously and were willing to listen to technical experts who understood the facts and the importance of scientific research. First, investment in science greatly contributes to economic growth. Since World War II, science and technology were responsible for over half of the economic growth in the United States. Second, regulations based on scientific research have made American lives healthier and protected our water and air from harmful substances. Third, experts in scientific fields allow our government to prepare for potential future crises in national security and public health.

In the past year, we have seen the Trump administration attack science at each of these levels with proposed cuts to federally funded research, the dismantling of important regulations, and unfilled top-level government positions that require an advanced scientific degree. The Trump administration has moved to censure and politicize science to turn scientific research into a field that only exists to confirm their political truths or – worse yet – completely dismantle our scientific infrastructure altogether.

Many of the positions that require an advanced degree in science are still unfilled. After over a year in office, the president has yet to nominate a top science and technology advisor. The director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy helps to coordinate our country’s research agenda. It is currently held by a political appointee with an advanced degree in political science.

These developments might sound like nothing more than Washington chatter, but there are serious implications for Americans if we fail to have leadership with the qualifications they need for their positions. Each of these positions plays a critical role in our country’s response to national disasters, disease outbreaks and national security crises.

This administration has also gone to great lengths to censor scientific research and findings. Last December, policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were forced to remove words like “evidence-based” and “science-based” from budgetary language. The Environmental Protection Agency has taken great care to remove references to climate change and underplay the human role in global warming. These actions threaten to undo any chance we have to respond to climate change and other long-term problems.

Unfortunately, this administration has forgotten or simply does not care that science has improved the standard of living for millions of Americans and allowed us to confront technical and public health crises. The Environmental Protection Agency has moved to repeal numerous regulations that keep Americans safe, including rules that prohibit emissions from power plants and a rule that extends clean water protections from waterways and streams. These changes have occurred under the leadership of Scott Pruitt, whose tenure at the EPA has been marred by constant stories of corruption and the misuse of taxpayer money.

There is, however, some good news. The Fiscal Year 2018 spending agreement that Congress passed last month is an emphatic rejection of Trump’s proposed deep cuts to science budgets and funding. The National Science Foundation will receive a nearly $300 million increase, and the Department of Energy Office of Science will also receive an increase of $868 million.

We must continue to tell this administration that leaders cannot ignore scientific facts when it is politically convenient for them. Science is the foundation of a society whose innovation has made this country great and will lead the way to a more prosperous and safer country. That’s why I will join Americans across the country on Saturday to march for science.

Congressman Bill Foster represents the 11th District in Illinois. For over twenty years, he worked as a high-energy physicist and particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and was a member of the team that discovered the top quark, the heaviest known form of matter.

Paid for by Bill Foster for Congress