Where We Go From Here
Yesterday, the United States elected Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Plenty of time has been spent on the shock much of the nation feels and the worry and fear consuming so many, but I would like to focus on a subset of that fear: a scientifically illiterate man who is hostile to the media and a free press will ascend our nation’s highest office on January 20, 2017.
As a budding science writer, I’m deeply concerned about this election (I’m deeply concerned for several other reasons, but that’s for a different forum). I’ve taken for granted a freedom of expression, but I’ve never faced scrutiny as I will when as I enter the public sphere as a professional writer. I hope that Donald Trump would not go after private citizens spewing vitriol on Twitter, but professional writers, particularly those at large outlets, may ask, “What will happen if I criticize President Trump?” Donald Trump has already begun pursuing an anti-environmental and climate-change-denying environmental policy with his choice of Myron Ebell, a strong climate-change denier, to head the EPA.
We will have a president who denies science, who calls climate change a Chinese hoax and believes that vaccines cause autism, an argument that has been debunked again and again and again. This is a man who claimed on a national stage that babies can be ripped from the womb the day before birth. These views do not bode well for environmental policy and research, women's health policy and research, and public health initiatives to promote vaccination. It also probably does not bode well for the fight against big agriculture's unsafe food practices or funding for the NIH (especially not for public health research on gun violence, which we so desperately need).
What do we, as writers, do when our president blatantly disregards basic scientific fact, makes poor policy decisions based on unsound science or pseudoscience, or appoints science deniers to the highest governmental positions, people who will place the interests of business above the environment and public health? I don't have a clear answer to that question, at least not one that is easy.
I attended the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) conference this past weekend, and one theme kept recurring about our responsibilities as writers. And our responsibility is, first and foremost, to our readers. Not our own fear of criticism and retaliation, not our worry about changing attitudes towards the media and towards science, not our concern that speaking out will be met with punishment.
I walk into this field apprehensive and tentative for many reasons. But I will not step aside or sit down because a man who denies science and mistrusts the press will ascend to our nation’s highest office. We owe it to readers, the public, and the future to report as truthfully and accurately as possible on the issues, whether that be medicine, public health, the environment, astronomy, and so on. So many challenges lie ahead, and this is one challenge I will rise to meet without doubt and without hesitation. I hope we’ll join as a community to do what is right, even if it is not easy.