Back in 2016, around the time of Trump’s surprise election triumph, we published a collection of some of the most ridiculous anti-science comments the incoming Commander-in-Chief had said. It was unclear at that point how severe the damage to America’s scientific legacy would actually be, but the list neatly demonstrated that the White House was hardly going to be home to a person well versed in factual information.
Now – putting the horror show of the degradation of American science aside for a moment – we regret to inform you that it's time for an update. Unsurprisingly, the man who peeked at the eclipse without any protective eyewear has had a few things to say about science since his inauguration.
As it happens though, the President has only infrequently referenced science during his first year in office, presumably because he has little interest in either. Whenever he does have a stab at it though, without any exception we’ve yet to find, he gets the science partly or entirely wrong.
So, for all you masochistic people out there, here are the high/lowlights: science, according to President (sigh) Trump himself.
During a typically bizarre sit-down interview with The New York Times shortly after Trump won the Electoral College vote – something that one NYT correspondent described as “less cerebral” than Obama’s 2007 equivalent chat – the topic of wind came up.
Mentioning that he has “a problem with wind”, the then President-elect went on to claim that “the wind is a very deceiving thing”, before having a bit of a bemusing rant about steel-bound atmosphere and wind turbines, the latter of which he thinks ruins golf courses and kills not some, but “all the birds”.
(Fun fact: although around 300,000 birds in North America die via wind turbines annually, cats kill as many as 3.7 billion. We’re not sure what Trump thinks about cats, though.)
Speaking of wind, when one of the three terrible tropical cyclonic triplets of 2017, Hurricane Irma, was barreling down toward the US, the President declared “we’ve had bigger storms”.
Although this turned out to be the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm on record, you could argue that there have been more damaging and more deadly hurricanes in the past – but that’s not the point really. It’s all a little meaningless because “size” isn’t everything, but what else would you expect from this particular president?
He also added that he “never even knew a Category Five existed for hurricanes.” Now, hurricane categories are based on the somewhat flawed Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and a Category Five is the (current) highest level on that scale. The President would know this if, of course, he had a science advisor in the White House to tell him such things, but hey ho.
Shiny, Clean Coal
Clean coal, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist. There will never be a low-carbon coal fuel source, nor is there any system that removes greenhouse gases and pollution from coal ignition operations. Trump has often touted this unicorn’s amazing possibilities, though, because the planet can suck it.
He clearly doesn’t even understand what this hypothetical concept refers to. Speaking to a crowd of supporters in August, he said that at an unspecified coal mine in Pennsylvania, they would burn clean coal, “meaning they’re taking out coal and they’re going to clean it.”
Does he think that coal is nice and shiny underneath or something when you wipe all that nasty soot away?
Winter Is Coming
Just when we thought that the year might end without much of a peep from POTUS, on December 29, he suddenly tweeted this:
After recovering from their concussion-level facepalms, scientists and science journalists took to the Web to voice their incredulity, including us.
The problems with this tweet, designed to stir up climate denial shenanigans, are multifaceted, but a) it’s not unusual that it's cold in winter, b) the particularly cold spike was likely due to a temporarily warped polar jet stream, and c) one weather data point cannot be extrapolated to explain the long-term meteorological trends, or – as it’s better known – the climate.
Worst Metaphor Ever
In what was easily the most uncomfortable and frightening dick-measuring contest of all time, Trump tweeted at North Korean supremo Kim Jong-Un, responding to nuclear warhead-flavored saber-rattling.
The button on his Oval Office desk that orders Diet Coke works, sure – but there’s no real nuclear button. The process in which a nuclear strike would be authorized is a lot more, well, fiddly and democratic than that, and certainly doesn’t involve a solitary button.
It’s unclear whether Trump is aware of this or not, but in this case, it’s most likely just a horrifically juvenile double entendre, something that caught the considerable ire of astronaut Mark Kelly.
Take Me To Paris
Trump’s long-expected but still gut-wrenching declaration that he was going to pull the US out of the Paris agreement as soon as was legally possible – about a month after the 2020 election, as it turns out – brought with it a litany of nonsense. We’ve listed the best/worst of them here, but two slithers of his unhinged, semi-soliloquy stood out from the crowd.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said at one point. Oh, very clever Donald – except, of course, when you apply that wordplay to an agreement whose entire focus is on global-scale climate change, it doesn’t mean anything.
In fact, this comment prompted a response from the mayor of Pittsburg, who declared his city will adhere to the agreement no matter what.
“Even if the Paris agreement was implemented in full, it is estimated that it would implement two-tenths of a degree of temperature reduction by 2100,” POTUS also declared. This appears to be the first time in his presidency that he referenced a (real) scientific study, but of course he messed it up.
He’s either citing a study unrelated to the Paris accords, or he’s citing an MIT paper, the findings of which, the university itself pointed out, he deeply misunderstood and misrepresented.
The President, of course, has spoken about the Paris agreement a fair bit since, often (falsely) claiming that it threatened to economically injure the US, or (falsely) suggesting that the targets of other nations, like China, were unfair compared to those imposed on the US – despite the fact all carbon-cutting targets were voluntary.
He also sometimes suggests that the agreement could be renegotiated, which all other signatories – the rest of the planet – have rejected.
Exercise Is Pointless
According to a New Yorker article published back in May 2017, the President reportedly claimed that exercise – unless it’s golf – is misguided, positing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.
As we pointed out at the time, this isn’t how biology or physics works. If this were true, then professional athletes would all be keeling over in their 20s, and those living a sedentary lifestyle would all be nonagenarians.
Both the obesity and opioid epidemics, which authorities are struggling to deal with, prematurely kill hundreds of Americans every single day. Although the White House has said a lot about dealing with the latter – obstinately a health, not criminal issue – essentially nothing practical has been done to move forward in this sense.
POTUS himself clearly has no idea what’s causing the epidemic. It’s complex, but it’s worth pointing out that over 40 percent of all US opioid overdose deaths are due to prescriptions, not illegally obtained painkillers. At the same time, around a quarter of those who get them for non-cancer treatments struggle with addiction.
Trump’s solution? Boost law enforcement, and tell people to not get addicted in the first place. “If they don't start, they won't have a problem,” he said back in August.
During one of Trump’s most recent “we could go back into the Paris agreement” word salads, he also randomly said: “We are very strong on the environment. I feel very strongly about the environment.”
His track record suggests that he either doesn’t care about the environment or simply doesn’t quite understand what its whole deal is. He certainly doesn’t feel very strongly about it, but his peons certainly enjoy trashing it as much as possible in the name of that sweet, sweet coal.
To Infinity And Beyond
The President signed an order to reactivate the somewhat pointless National Space Council (NSC) last summer, with – among others – Buzz Aldrin standing behind him. Trump, at one point, leaned over to Aldrin and said: “There’s a lot of room out there, right?” to which Aldrin, making a clear Toy Story reference, replied: “Infinity and beyond!” much to everyone’s laughter.
Everyone’s, of course, except Trump's. Clearly having never seen this classic animated masterpiece, he instead decided to take on the concept of cosmological infinity and give his own thoughts on the subject with the grace of a train wreck.
“This is infinity here,” he mused. “It could be infinity. We really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something, but it could be infinity, right?”
Well, good to have that cleared up.