The road ahead

(Flickr: Allison Meier)

Since Election Day, people have been [posting]( their thoughts and fears about the future on the walls of the New York City subway. (Flickr: Allison Meier)

It’s been almost two weeks since we woke up to the reality that Donald Trump — the failed casino mogul, the virtuoso tax-dodger, the reality-show star, the self-described serial sexual assailant, the Ku Klux Klan endorsee and darling of white supremacists, and, yes, the short-fingered vulgarian — will be the next President of the United States. It was a shock on the night of November 8th, and it is no less disorienting a fortnight later. Every aspect of U.S. society as we’ve known it faces an uncertain future after Inauguration Day, and scientific research and education is at the top of that crowded list.
In response to the Science Debate questionnaire on research funding and science literacy, Trump gave phoned-in generalizations:

My administration will work with Congress to establish priorities for our government and how we will allocate our limited fiscal resources. This approach will assure that the people’s voices will be heard on this topic and others. [This is the entirety of the response to the question about ocean conservation.]

thinly veiled denialism:

There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change’.


The implication of your question is that there should be central control of American agriculture by the federal government. That is totally inappropriate.

and contradictions from one response to another:

Though there are increasing demands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget, we must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous. … We cannot simply throw money at these institutions and assume that the nation will be well served.

If the incoming president’s posture towards basic research is at all ambiguous, there’s more than enough reason for concern in his vice president’s ideological hostility towards evolutionary biology and evidence-based public health policy, and in the continuation of a Congressional majority that has shown unprecedented opposition to open scientific inquiry even without support in the White House.
Major scientific societies have mostly responded to the electoral news through the lens of their roles as advocates for science literacy and research funding. The Genetics Society of America posted a diplomatic appeal to the president-elect based on the economic and social benefits of science, and a call to its membership to prepare for more active engagement with lawmakers and executive appointees. The CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science penned an op-ed in the journal Science that stakes a firm claim on the political importance of scientific evidence:

The openness and directness of scientists’ communication can be unwelcome to politicians, but the scientific community must present its best understanding of relevant evidence clearly, directly, and without condescension. We must make clear that an official cannot wish away what is known about climate change, gun violence, opioid addiction, fisheries depletion, or any other public issue illuminated by research.

There are also the implications of the new administration’s expected policies and attitudes towards scientists as people. Innumerable immigrants, women and people of color, and people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or otherwise queer work in science in the U.S. — even if our research funding weren’t threatened by the new regime, we’d have more than enough reason for concern in Trump’s avowed racism and sexism, and the support he’s received from white supremacists, and the uptick in reported hate crimes following the election.
Altogether, there’s no one on The Molecular Ecologist team, or in our readership, who doesn’t have reason to be apprehensive about the future. The best that I can say is, we’re all going forward together. If anything, our aim to connect working evolutionary ecologists with each other, and with the public, is all the more important in the new reality we face. We’re going to keep right on posting about new developments in genetic sequencing technology and analysis, and their power to help us understand the living world — and we won’t shy away from discussing how that understanding applies to “political” topics ranging from climate change to human diversity.
If anything, it is now all the more important that those of us who work daily with the facts of evolution, ecology, and genetics be ready to speak up for those facts. In the days to come, we’re going to do all that we can to maintain The Molecular Ecologist as a place that welcomes, supports, and advocates for everyone dedicated to that work.
— Jeremy

About Jeremy Yoder

Jeremy B. Yoder is an Associate Professor of Biology at California State University Northridge, studying the evolution and coevolution of interacting species, especially mutualists. He is a collaborator with the Joshua Tree Genome Project and the Queer in STEM study of LGBTQ experiences in scientific careers. He has written for the website of Scientific American, the LA Review of Books, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Awl, and Slate.
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