Donald Trump has stated clearly that he believes climate change is a hoax and that vaccines cause autism, two topics that have been clearly proven by science to be untrue. Now, he has a team of players that are carrying these beliefs to other levels of government.
Science is one of the few institutions remaining that seeks the truth. It is a highly effective tool that simply wants to figure out how the universe works. It is self-correcting, building on the knowledge of those who went before, and constantly improves on that knowledge as new technology comes along, such as bigger telescopes, or more sensitive instruments that let us see the world in better detail. It is a system that works because it is based on hard evidence.
Belief is personal, and is often based on information that is either incomplete, outdated or simply wrong. In the case of vaccines causing autism, it all began in 1998 from a single article published in the prestigious journal The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield that stated the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was linked to a rise in autism among children. Since then, several studies, including those done by the Centres for Disease Control, have proven that link to be wrong, and The Lancet has completely withdrawn the article.
But the belief that the link exists is still in the public mind because it has been carried on by non-scientists such as Hollywood actors and conspiracy theorists. A couple of hundred thousand parents have refused the vaccines for their children and — lo and behold — in 2014 alone, there were 23 measles outbreaks in the U.S.
Trump is one of those people who still believes in the link even though there is no evidence to support it, and is said to be considering putting together a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity, headed by Robert Kennedy Jr., a known vaccine skeptic.
Another prestigious science journal, Nature, has published an article that calls this action biased and dangerous.
Fortunately, a poll of 23 members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions found that 18 of them agreed vaccines do work. Hopefully, scientific evidence and common sense will prevail.
Yet another prestigious journal, Science, has published an article on the testimony from several of Trump's nominees, including Scott Pruitt, a well known climate change denier who will head up the Environmental Protection Agency, an organization he has sued many times over regulations on pollution. Former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who will be Secretary of State, also refuses to acknowledge human activity is responsible for our warming planet, despite abundant scientific evidence to the contrary.
Concern by scientists
Scientists in the U.S. who work in environmental science are concerned that they may be muzzled, their research may be ignored, or cuts to their departments will be so dramatic they will be out of work altogether. And beyond their own careers, they are worried about a continued, unimpeded warming of Earth as the government shifts its priority from lowering carbon emissions to supporting industries such as coal, oil and gas.
False belief systems have a habit of remaining in the public mind even after they have been proven wrong. Conspiracy theorists still believe the moon landings were faked, even though we have recent photos of the Apollo landing sites from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is circling the moon at this moment. Many parents are still refusing vaccines for their children because they believe they are harmful, even though there is no evidence to support it. And climate change deniers are still out there casting doubt in the public mind while scientists watch the planet warm before their eyes.
Political decisions should be based on fact, not belief. Science is the best tool we have for finding those facts. Let's hope the new Trump Administration will continue to use it.