February 28, 2017

Fear, Science, and the Trump Administration


I'm about to make a statement that perhaps is a bit risky given the current state of affairs in our nation.


I'm not big on politics. Not only that, I really don't like paying attention to politics.


What I really mean when I say that, is that until this past year, I really didn't pay attention to politics-at all. Yes, I've voted in every election since I was eligible to vote. But I never watched a single State of the Union address from presidents Bush or Obama (gasp!!) I obtained my political information passively, through chatting with other individuals who were responsible citizens that reads newspapers and watched the news daily. My modus operandi was, "all politicians are liars, and none of them do what they say they are going to do anyway, so I'm not going to get my panties all up in a bunch about it-I don't have the emotional energy to be disappointed when I discover that my candidate lied to me and everyone else who voted for him."


This isn't to say that I don't care. In fact, I do care, very much. I care about where candidates and elected officials stand on controversial topics such as abortion, women's rights, and welfare. I care about how policies and the mechanisms for enforcing them affect not only my country, but me personally as a citizen of this country. However, I'm suffering from what I think a lot of people around this country, and world, are suffering from. I'm tired. I don't enjoy opening the day's newspaper only to read another depressing, disappointing political update right when I've finally gotten over the disappointment and sadness from reading the previous day's article. I'm already worried enough about the future of this country and my career as a scientist; being reminded of those fears daily doesn't exactly fill me warm fuzzies. So, I've done with politics what I tend to do with anything that overwhelms me emotionally: I shut down and ignore.


What is becoming increasingly clear to me; however, is that as much as I hate taking in the negative information daily, I really need to do so-and really, it isn't all negative. Even negative information can be used for good if only we react to it correctly and use it as motivation to work harder toward improving the world we live in. And, the truth is, the only way I will be able to prepare for what is ahead is to know what is ahead, and give myself the time to react in a way that will protect myself and my work.


Knowing that, I've thought a lot about the best way to do this. Since November, I've remained completely silent. I haven't posted anything on Facebook, Twitter, or any other public avenue regarding my feelings and emotions in response to the Trump Administration and the things that have happened since inauguration day. I've sat quietly, as I usually do, watching, absorbing, and chewing. And this is what I've come up with.


As scientists, we first must not forget how to be scientists, and second, we must not let fear control or drive us. What do I mean by that? I'm going to use a very recent example that affected every single scientist in this country in one way or another to illustrate my point.


I remember when I first heard that Trump had not only frozen EPA funds but also prohibited EPA scientists from speaking to the media about their work without prior government clearance of the material. At first, I was shocked, as were many. I am aware that Trump is radical, but even this seemed like a shockingly bold step-prohibit free share of scientific data? Cut off funds to an organization just because they "believe" in something that you don't? I began to worry about how far Trump would go now that he had taken this first step. Around the country, organizations were formed and a Science March was planned. Scientists were on fire, and inspired by the still recent Women's March, were ready to storm Washington to fight for their passion! I even did something that I usually avoid-I discussed politics with my dad, who voted for Trump. Even he seemed shocked when I told him the news, but he did say one thing that reminded me of my responsibility as a scientist. He asked me, "Where did you get that information? Find me the source directly from the White House, not from a news station, and I'll believe it."


I got off the phone and went in search of the original source. What I found out was that the fund freeze and media appearance audit not only happened during the Bush and Obama administrations, but are actually modus operandi any time there is a change in administrations (though to be fair, Trump's approach was a bit unconventional). Learning that concerned me even more, but that is not the point I am trying to make here. I, as many others, had fell prey to raw emotions and fears-which certainly are not unfounded-and forgot to do my due diligence: be a scientist. I didn't check the sources, I didn't confirm their validity, and I only read a single article plus dozens of Facebook and Twitter posts. I felt ashamed. I know better. I apologized to my dad for feeding him incorrect information prematurely. Even more, I realized how important it is that we don't let fear control us and make us forget what it means to be a good, responsible scientist-and that means acting like one in all areas of our lives, not just in our laboratories. As Franklin Roosevelt said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself, and now more than ever I understand the heavy weight of the truth of these words. If we let fear take control, we won't be able think with and act from the clear minds necessary to adequately fight for everything we stand for-and that would be a sore shame.


It was after this that I became grounded in my approach to doing science in the age of Trump. Organizations can achieve powerful change, and marches and protests are also powerful, but I truly believe that the most powerful thing I can do now is to refuse to be controlled by fear and instead boldly engage in the scientific research that I am so passionate about. This, I feel, will show Trump, our congressmen and women and representatives at the local, state, and federal level-as well as the world-that scientists will not be bullied. We believe in our work, and we will do it, and we will not be stopped. Inauguration day was one of the most exciting days I've experienced in a long time. Why? I was in a room with people who have literally already changed the world, laying the groundwork for a truly fantastic study that I promise you will change the future. The energy and excitement were palpable.


To those out there who want to march, march! And be proud of it! To those out there who blog or Tweet, blog and tweet, and use your ability to reach and influence others to affect change! But, above of all, no matter what other avenues you use to support and preserve science, do science, and do it fearlessly and passionately!