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Trump Has Finally Picked A Science Advisor - So Who Are They?

author

Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

clockAug 1 2018, 16:05 UTC

Has someone at the White House made a mistake? Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

You’re not dreaming – Trump is expected to officially announce his nomination for the job of White House science advisor in the coming days.

This also means that Trump broke yet another ignominious record: it’s been 560 days since his inauguration that he’s decided to nominate an official to the post, doubling the last record-holder (hello, George W. Bush!). As noted by the Washington Post, JFK, Nixon, Clinton, and Obama stand in stark contrast to Trump, having selected a science advisor before they began their first term.

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The nominee in question is meteorologist Dr Kelvin Droegemeier, a bona fide scientist, university administrator, and former vice-chair of the National Science Foundation’s governing board. He doesn’t just have a highly appropriate first name, mind you – he’s widely considered to be a great scientist and policy wonk.

Rush Holt, chief executive officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a statement that they are applauding the decision.

“Science and technology are embedded in almost every issue that the president deals with, and since 2016, we’ve urged the nomination of a respected scientist or engineer,” Holt said. “Kelvin Droegemeier is such a scientist,” he added, noting his experience that cuts across many scientific disciplines, from extreme weather to cybersecurity.

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John Holdren, Obama’s former science advisor, told Nature that he’s a “very solid choice” who has “experience in speaking science to power.”

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Droegemeier is likely to be confirmed to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which advises the president on a wide range of matters coming in from all branches of the federal government. At least, it was supposed to, until the administration gutted it last year.

There are essentially two layers of shock here. The first, and most obvious, is that this nomination happened at all. It’s not clear why it happened at this point, but the fact that it has taken place took everyone by surprise. The second is that Droegemeier is genuinely a serious, well-respected scientist and science advocate.

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Plenty of nominations in the Trump administration have been deeply suspect: they’ve held odd beliefs about climate change, and frequently have ties to the fossil fuel or petrochemical industry. Remember how pleasantly surprised everyone was when the new NASA chief, Jim Bridenstine, confirmed that he believes that humans contribute to climate change in a “major way” after having read up on the subject?

As is painfully obvious, the Trump administration is the most anti-scientific in modern history, with politically inconvenient science – climate change and environmentalism in particular – being censored, defunded or otherwise obfuscated like it’s going out of fashion. It’s taken a lot of effort by scientists both in and out of government, as well as Congress (!) to mitigate some of this damage.

A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists euphemistically described the relationship between science and evidence, and the Trump administration, as “strained.” It’s therefore utterly remarkable that Droegemeier has been nominated.

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It’s been said that not having a science advisor, particularly at a time when increasingly unnatural disasters strike the country, is like going to war without your generals giving you advice. Although it’s deeply uncertain as to what effect, if any, Droegemeier will have on the current President, it’s still good news that the White House now has a scientist wandering its halls.

Trying to communicate science policy recommendations to Trump is an unenviable task, though. After all, the Commander-in-Chief seems to be infuriated by basic information, let alone scientific facts.

Will Droegemeier be heard above the fire and fury of the White House? May the Force be with him.


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