AAAS President Urges Trump to Leverage Science in Policymaking

In an editorial published in the 3 February issue of Science, AAAS President Barbara Schaal urges President Trump to include credible scientists in his administration — at all levels and in all federal agencies — so that policy decisions can be made with due consideration of scientific evidence.

"For policies to be successful," Schaal writes, "we must first understand the current state of knowledge … The practices of science — open dialogue, publication, scrutiny and replication — help validate results, allowing our understanding of the world around us to grow and change."

Barbara Schaal

In the last several years, there have been numerous instances of science contributing to policy — for example, in forensics new studies have led to a better understanding of the information provided by DNA, fingerprints and the composition of bullets.

While acknowledging that science alone cannot offer policy solutions to the many challenges that society faces, "it provides testable, fundamental knowledge of the world and how things work," she writes.

Since President Trump's election in November 2016, the scientific community has voiced concerns that Trump may not fully value science-based evidence.

This is worrisome, Schaal noted, not only because of the need for science-based evidence in policymaking, but because of its importance to a healthy research and development enterprise in America — one capable of driving advances in health, information technology, agriculture and energy.

"Science and technology are pervasive throughout all agencies," Schaal said, "and to not have scientists who can convey credible information in these spaces risks making poor decisions."

Responding to concerns some scientists have voiced since President Trump's election, Schaal emphasized that science is not a political construct or a belief system. "Decisions need to be based on the best available science, rather than on beliefs, impressions and politics."

She added that "science cannot thrive when policy-makers — regardless of political party affiliation — use disagreements as an opportunity to counter scientific conclusions that go against a political agenda."

Joining with many other voices in the scientific community, Schaal and AAAS CEO Rush Holt continue to strongly urge President Trump to name a science adviser who is a respected member of the scientific community. AAAS will hold its annual meeting 16- 20 February in Boston to discuss opportunities for science to inform policy in areas such as agriculture, energy, biomedical research and more.

Barbara Schaal is the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

[Credit for associated image: OSTP]