They’re scared about climate change, biomedical research funding, and a general backlash against the “elite,” among other things. “I feel sick to my stomach,” one scientist told BuzzFeed News.
The scientific community shifted into a collective panic on Tuesday night, as election results rolled in indicating that Donald Trump would beat out Hillary Clinton.
Trump has taken many anti-science stances, most notably claiming that climate change is a “hoax”, “bullshit,” and invented by the Chinese.
In September, 375 leading scientists, including 30 Nobel laureates, signed an open letter slamming Trump’s stance on climate change and his suggestion that the US walk away from the Paris climate agreement.
“He’s almost certainly going to dial back any progress we’ve been [making] on climate change — which affects everybody in the world, and is just going to be a complete disaster,” Katie Mack, an astrophysicist at Melbourne University, told BuzzFeed News.
Biomedical researchers — in both industry and academia — are also concerned.
Trump has repeatedly pushed the myth that vaccines cause autism, for example, and once ran a company selling questionable “customized” vitamins.
“I feel sick to my stomach,” a research director of a small biotech focused on autism therapies told BuzzFeed News. That US stock futures began to plummet Tuesday night, he said, shows how scared investors are.
“What Donald Trump brings to the United States is uncertainty, which is going to result in a dramatic restriction of money that can be invested in innovation,” the scientist, who did not want to use his name for fear of professional backlash, told BuzzFeed News. “A win from Donald Trump jeopardizes our ability to work towards new medicines to help families.”
The vast majority of academic researchers are funded by the federal government, with most biomedical work supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Although historically this funding has received bipartisan support, some worry that that could change under Trump.
“I’m extremely worried,” Eric Topol, a cardiologist and genetics researcher at the Scripps Research Institute who just received a $207 million grant from the federal Precision Medicine Initiative, told BuzzFeed News. “Hard to know how it will play out but NIH funding and biomedical research in general would be at risk.”
“Dramatic tax cuts will hurt research in a big way for sure,” added Jonathan Sebat, a genetics researcher at the University of California, San Diego.
“The real question is how is the economy going to handle the inevitable instability that will come when Trump begins to dismantle the existing economic policies.”
Trump has also promised to add an anti-abortion justice to the Supreme Court, and his running mate, Mike Pence, had a long history of anti-abortion policy in his home state of Indiana.
“You’re talking about an individual who is not informed by data, whether it’s from climate change or anything else, and is poorly read,” Evan Snyder, a stem cell biologist at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, California, told BuzzFeed News. “So clearly science is not a priority for him.”
Beyond Trump’s specific policies, Snyder also worries about a backlash from triumphant Trump supporters against scientists who overwhelmingly opposed their candidate. “Inevitably there will be a backlash,” he said. “We had our clock cleaned. We consider ourselves to be better than the rest of the country and they showed us.”
Although a handful of scientists have supported Trump publicly, they’re definitely rare.
For scientists surrounded by like-minded colleagues who expected Trump to lose, the prospect that he may win is bewildering and scary.
“I have never once been in a meeting where Trump has been taken seriously, or has been viewed as anything but a buffoon,” Snyder said.