In an op-ed for Scientific American, veteran journalist and news anchor Dan Rather warns that as we approach the presidency of Donald Trump, his proposed policies put our response to climate change in “deep jeopardy and threaten to change the fundamental direction of science in the U.S.”
Rather predicts that when the history is written on the 2016 presidential election, historians will be wondering why the subject of climate change went largely ignored.
Either that, or our descendants will be “so distracted by survival” that they won’t even care that the threat once existed.
With just a few mentions in speeches—and, jaw-droppingly, no questions at the presidential debates—this omission marks a singular failure of the press and the political class. But it is indicative of a much broader systemic rot. Make no mistake; science was on the ballot this fall. And almost nobody took notice. But they should now because the Trump Administration is outlining an aggressive policy portfolio that not only puts our global response to climate change in deep jeopardy but that also threatens to radically change the fundamental direction of science in the United States.
According to Rather, science is not a “niche issue” to be covered peripherally by the media. It’s a powerful tool that is “central to America’s military and economic might, that it shapes the health and welfare of our citizenry, and that our governmental support of the pure pursuit of knowledge through basic research is one of the defining symbols of American excellence.”
This is why we need to radically rethink how the press, scientists and politicians place science in the national discourse. And we can’t afford to wait. The top priority must be for scientists to try to engage the incoming administration. While the early indications of how a President Trump may approach issues of science are concerning, we cannot afford not to try. I would suggest that a group of Nobel Prize winners, members of the National Academy of Sciences and other scientific leaders who may get his attention, offer to meet with the President-elect to lay out what they think the biggest issues are. Top of the list is to assert the special role of science in planning for our future, especially, of course, when it comes to climate change.
Especially in the age of Trump, the media needs to be “active and involved” in building bridges between the scientific community, the press, and politicians — especially those elected officials who deny science.
What we need is sustained and improved partnerships between the press and the scientific community. We need more cross-pollination and engagement. We need experimentation on form, tone, content, and distribution. We cannot allow science content to be relegated to echo chambers or elite distribution outlets. We need to try to find a way to take the message to where the people are, through digital promotion, distribution and social media engagement.
You can read Rather’s entire op-ed for Scientific American here.
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