Dear President-elect Trump,
Congratulations on your victory. As a fellow president myself (albeit with a much smaller constituency), I can remember well those early post-election days, when the surge of heady enthusiasm for all those things I hoped to accomplish had not yet been eroded by the practicalities of actually governing. But as a geneticist writing to a man of business, I’d like to tell you why you should surprise the world and make science the cornerstone of your administration.
First, science and engineering create jobs—good jobs. In my world, it’s pharmaceutical companies making antibodies to treat cancer, or biotech companies using stem cells to regenerate tissues. In other fields, it’s manufacturing new smart phones and cars and televisions, or robots and laptops and airplanes. If it turns out to be difficult to bring back old blue collar jobs like those in coal mining or the steel industry, please consider supporting some new jobs based on the strength of the American scientific research enterprise. Start-up companies that create high wage jobs sprout in research parks around healthy university research communities—not just in Silicon Valley or outside Boston but in Indiana and North Dakota and Louisiana and South Carolina. And rebuilding our infrastructure, a goal shared by both Parties, will require lots of innovation, especially for things like power grids, internet access, treatment plants, and efficient transportation systems.
Second, a host of nasty diseases that we don’t have good cures for strike our fellow Americans—diseases like diabetes, congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many cancers. As we all get older, one of these dreadful diseases is likely to catch up to you and me and many of our family members. (I’d be remiss not to mention that others—like malaria, TB, respiratory and diarrheal diseases, AIDS—hit hard in much of the rest of the world, but perhaps we can save this discussion for another time.) If you ask the CEOs of our big pharmaceutical companies, I expect they’ll tell you that their companies’ successes depend on the basic research carried out by members of my professional society and other similar ones. It may surprise you to learn that many of the genes implicated in human disease were first discovered in organisms like fruit flies and roundworms and baker’s yeast. I should mention, too, that the pharmaceutical industry hires the scientists and engineers trained in our university labs. It’s simply good business practice to bolster support for basic research.
Third—and here’s where I hate to get into disagreement with you—but please hear me out: The world really is warming up and humans really are to blame. Don’t take my word for it; I’m no climatologist. Talk to residents in some coastal communities of states like Florida and Georgia and ask them about the tidal flooding that’s already happening. Look at the open letter that BP, Shell and other oil companies wrote to the UN last year that said, “Climate change is a critical challenge for our world.” Ask the heads of our major energy companies—preferably in a quiet White House setting away from the glare of the media and Congressional members of your party—whether they are worried about climate change, like the 2/3 of Americans who took a Gallup survey earlier this year. New sources of clean energy could fuel a lot of new jobs that might otherwise land in China. And while neither of us may be the most religious of men, Genesis tells us that man was put in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (“keep” here can also be translated as “guard” or “protect”)—a biblical injunction to take care of the environment that many fellow citizens, including a large number who voted for you, take seriously.
I could go on with topics like these, but surely you’re aware that your administration could become badly tripped up by a wholly unforeseen crisis whose causes and solutions may be addressable by science and technology: a global pandemic spread by a drug-resistant pathogen, for example; or disease-carrying mosquitos colonizing large swaths of our country; or a giant oil spill burning out of control; or a furious superstorm exacerbated by rising sea levels. As a businessman, you must appreciate that it’s only prudent to find real scientific experts who can assess these kinds of risks and help you plan for contingencies.
If you want to bring America together, a great way to start is by declaring your respect for science, and by persuading those who deny the results of scientific enquiry to re-examine the evidence. From one president to a soon-to-be other, please consider it.