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Marching To Protest Trump's War On Science

A photo from the March For Science in Boston last year. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
A photo from the March For Science in Boston last year. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

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We should not be holding a March for Science in Boston this year.

More precisely, we shouldn’t need to hold one, not in Boston or in any other city. In a normally functioning democracy, the sensible application of science isn’t a cause that puts people in the streets. But because the warnings heard at last year’s march about the then newly inaugurated president have proved prescient, the need to march for science arises once again.

So, where to begin the indictment of the Trump administration for its crimes against science?

We could start with nutrition and the nation’s food supply. The increasing rate of obesity affects millions of Americans and adds uncounted billions to the cost of health care. Ample research has documented the contributing role that junk food plays in this disturbing trend. Casting aside the scientific data, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, now renegotiating NAFTA with Canada and Mexico, is staunchly opposing labeling guidelines that would warn consumers of the potential health hazards in processed food and soft drinks.

people will ... take a stand in support of the just use of science, the foundation on which our understanding of the world rests.

In the same vein, the administration has impeded the adoption of food safety legislation designed to minimize the risk of bacterial contaminants, has proposed deep cuts in the Department of Agriculture’s budget for nutrition research, and has backed away from programs that would reduce levels of salt in school lunches. In each of these cases, the role of scientific research in protecting the food supply has been diminished, discounted or simply disregarded.

Numerous other assaults on science and public health have originated at the Environmental Protection Agency. A good example is the EPA’s decision not to act on a recommendation to ban chlorpyrifos, an agricultural pesticide known to cause neurological damage. (It also kills bees, which are crucial for the pollination of crops.) The Obama administration called for a ban on chlorpyrifos in late 2015, but the current EPA, citing a need for “regulatory certainty,” reversed the recommendation — a ruling in direct contradiction of the agency’s own findings on the pesticide’s hazards. Once more, industry wins and science loses.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continues to ignore, suppress and discredit scientific research that runs counter to his campaign to dismantle the regulatory structure put in place by past administrations. (He has also faced criticism recently for ethics abuses ranging from unwarranted first-class plane tickets to shady apartment deals, but those misdeeds are less pernicious than his methodical undermining of the EPA’s mission.)

The latest tack he’s taken, in the name of “transparency,” is to disallow the use of nonpublic data — what he terms “secret science” — in the formulation of environmental rules. While outwardly laudable, the policy would effectively exclude vast numbers of peer-reviewed research papers only because those studies were designed to safeguard the privacy of the medical information of its subjects. In the estimate of Gina McCarthy, who led the EPA under Obama, Pruitt’s newest gambit is merely a means “to prevent the EPA from using the best available science.”

The Department of Interior also has a bad case of anti-science fever. Last August, it halted a study of the health effects of mountaintop-removal coal mining that had been undertaken at the request of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. This maneuver recalls the NRA’s successful efforts to prevent the federal government from studying gun violence. Both cases exemplify a favored tactic of the Trump administration: stifling scientific research before it can produce data that could be used to derail their legislative or deregulatory agenda — silencing the science to disarm political adversaries.

This muzzling of scientists has been widespread on the topic of climate change, where science has taken its most severe beating under the current administration. Trump’s disdain for climate change research is well known. He has installed climate change deniers in top positions throughout the federal government, including key offices at the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, Environmental Protection, Justice, Housing and State. It would take an entire book to document the full extent of the Trump-Pruitt attack on climate science.

The Trump administration’s full-throttle drive for dominance in fossil fuel production has isolated our nation and put us in stark opposition to the global movement to address this existential threat.

So, again this year, the March for Science becomes necessary. Necessary because science matters. Necessary because we rely on science to separate myth from fact. And necessary because the restoration of science’s proper role in government will require political resistance.

On April 14, in over 175 cities around the world, including Boston, people will do what they should never have to do — take a stand in support of the just use of science, the foundation on which our understanding of the world rests.

 The Boston March for Science will take place at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park on Saturday, April 14.

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Frederick Hewett Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Frederick Hewett is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. He writes about energy, climate, politics and Boston.

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