SCIENCE ADVISERS AND SCIENCE ADVICE
The new Administration hardly lacks for Fake News, but surely one of the best such items is the rumor that Trump planned to appoint 2008 Vice-Presidential candidate (and climate-change denier) Sarah Palin as his Science Adviser. Fake news bolstered by a Fake Tweet purportedly from The Donald, as Kim LaCapria revealed at the fact-checking site Snopes.com early this month.
In 1976, Congress declared that the US President must have a Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The job’s occupant is supposed to advise the president and coördinate scientific and technological initiatives between government agencies. But it’s up to each President to decide how much stature the OSTP Director has. according to Mike Orcutt at Technology Review.
Obama cared a lot about science and appointed his Science Adviser, John Holdren, before he was even formally in office. He handed Holdren projects ranging from climate change to the Precision Medicine Initiative to high-performance computing. John Marburger, George W. Bush’s OSTP Director, was kept to a much lower profile and wasn’t even appointed until Bush had been in office for six months.
Nothing much has been said so far about a Trump Science Adviser, although it is thought that a climate-change skeptic is not out of the question–even if it’s not Sarah Palin. A recent rumor says it might be Yale prof David Gelernter, early expert in parallel computing and artificial intelligence, contrarian, and probable genius.
According to David French and others at National Review, Gelernter is emphatically not what the Washington Post has called him, fiercely anti-intellectual. Just because he is a climate-change skeptic. Hmph.
Herewith, more speculative bloggery about the Trump administration’s possible impact on science and medicine. Some of which barely rises above the level of rumor. Or even Fake News, however unwitting.
ONCE MORE, THE CLIMATE
Rick Perry is notorious for (a) being unable to recall the name of the Department of Energy; and (b) wanting to abolish it. Now, testifying on behalf of Trump’s desire to make the former Texas governor head of the DOE, he takes it all back–apparently because he has since learned what the DOE actually does, says Brad Plumer at Vox.
Despite the agency’s name, Plumer points out, energy programs account for only 15% of the DOE budget. The biggest chunk, 40%, goes to designing, maintaining, and testing the US nuclear weapons arsenal. Much of this work is done at the nation’s 17 national research labs. Another 20% is dedicated to handling nuclear waste and cleaning up radioactive messes.
And 20% also goes to underwriting basic science at the national labs. Perry vowed to protect DOE scientists and their work from attack, according to Alexander Kaufman at HuffPo. But, Kaufman says, it’s not clear whether Perry will protect the DOE research budget from Trump’s promised drastic cuts.
Grace Hood reports at NPR that scientists are worried about a Perry tenure as head of DOE. OTOH, while he was Texas governor, wind energy took off in the state.
During his recent Senate confirmation hearing, Perry also reversed himself on another central matter, no longer denying the reality of human-created climate change. The New York Times notes that his comments echo those of other Trump nominees who formerly denied climate change. The present party line seems to be to acknowledge that climate change is real and even to acknowledge that human activities are a cause–but not as much of a cause as most climate scientists say.
In a later post, Plumer noted that the Perry hearing had been blindsided by a simultaneous report that Perry seemed unaware of. The TrumPets were said to be considering cutting several trillion dollars from the US budget. The plan “envisions gutting or zeroing out many of the Energy Department’s key science and energy research programs in everything from nuclear research to carbon capture for coal.”
ONCE MORE, MEDICAL PRACTICE AND OBAMACARE
Congressman Tom Price, the doc who is Trump’s pick for head of the Department of Health and Human Services, is a big supporter of small medical practices and independent physicians. Yet he was the first board chairman of a merger of 7 orthopedic practices in Atlanta. Comprising more than 100 docs, it’s now one of the largest practices in the US.
This tidbit from Joanne Kenen at Covering Health, in a post that’s full of juicy background on Price–including the fact that he seems to have invested in the stocks of several health care companies that would be affected by legislation he was involved in.
Price opposes Obamacare. He also wants big changes in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, changes that would, of course, cut the programs’ services.
At Ars Technica, Beth Mole notes that a recent Congressional Budget Office report forecasts that Price’s proposed legislation on Obamacare “would cause 18 million people to lose their insurance and would increase premiums of individual plans by about 20 to 25 percent, all within a year of being enacted.” Mole adds, “After roughly two years, the number of uninsured would jump by 27 million and premiums would increase by about 50 percent. If nothing else changes, in ten years, the uninsured would increase by 32 million and premiums would be about double.”
Price’s confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee is not his last hurdle; there are more to come. At the Health Care Blog, Paul Keckley listed a number of takeaways. Winners are likely to be insurance companies and docs, losers will be hospitals, states, and the newly insured. Keckley’s conclusion, “The confirmation hearing was a media event: it’s unlikely votes on either side changed and virtually certain that Congressman Price will be the next HHS Secretary . . . ”
CHANGE OF TOPIC: BIG BLOG NEWS
There’s a new statistics blog in town, Statistical Thinking, run by Frank Harrell, who chairs the Department of Biostatistics at Vanderbilt. The intended reach seems to be broad: “Statistics is a field that is a science unto itself and that benefits all other fields and everyday life.” Potentially helpful to science writers and perhaps even some scientists.
But the big blog news this week is that the well-known and highly proficient science journalist Ed Yong is closing down Not Exactly Rocket Science. Here’s his final post.
Not Exactly Rocket Science has long been one of the top science blogs, and Yong said it taught him how to be a science writer. Yong was also a science blogging pioneer, having begun in 2006.
Remarkably, he did it alongside day jobs, most recently as staff science writer at The Atlantic. Not to mention writing his first book, I Contain Multitudes, about how microbes rule the world.
It appeared on a number of lists of 2016’s top books. We look forward to many more.