Trump’s Immigration Restrictions Limits Progress of Science

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Rush Holt, Head of world’s biggest science organization says legislation must be based on evidence

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CROWD: (cheering)

PROTEST SPEAKER: Start with an understanding of how things actually are. Today, thousands…

CROWD: (cheering)

PROTEST SPEAKER#2: Hi, guys. You’ve heard a lot this morning. I have three questions for you. Are you ready?

RUSH HOLT: I’m Rush Holt. I’m the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Executive Editor of, “The Science Magazine and Family of Journals”. Before that I was a member of Congress for 16 years. I’m a physicist by training, a researcher and college professor, and I’m delighted to be here at the March for Science. There hasn’t been anything like this in the last half century, where scientists have said, “We should be out in public.”

Well, scientists have learned over the years that science is the cleverest way of thinking ever invented, to understand how things are. But, they’ve thought that the wonders of science, everything that science brings to society and helps people, has been obvious. But evidently it hasn’t been obvious. And so, the conditions under which science can thrive, have been taken for granted.

And suddenly, scientists seem to have realized that they need to stand up for science, to stand up for the defense of those conditions, free exchange of ideas, freedom of travel, freedom to collaborate, freedom to choose your research topics without political interference, adequate support, both financial and social, all of those things. And scientists suddenly realized these might go away. We have to defend them.

You know, 20 years ago I left the laboratory, and did something that a lot of my science colleagues called crazy — I ran for Congress, down the Mall here. I served for 16 years, and I discovered that policies, and legislation based on the way things actually are — are better policies, is better legislation. And that’s what science is all about; it’s this clever way of figuring out how things actually are.

And we’ve all seen in recent years, and more and more — that policies are made with ignoring, or dismissing, or denying, the evidence about how things actually are. And so, thousands and thousands of people all around the world today are saying, “Public decisions should be based on evidence.”

More than partisan, people have ignored science, and I would say both parties — science is generally an after-thought. So, take the immigration orders that came out of the current administration. I’ll bet as they were discussing those, the word science, or what this would do to research, did not cross anybody’s lips. It was they didn’t understand that restrictions on travel actually affect the progress of science. Just as restrictions on free exchange of ideas, restricts the progress of science.

So, people in both parties, just for them science is an after-thought. And so, that’s the key point here — that in all sorts of areas, whether you’re talking about GMOs, or vaccination, or climate change, or evolution, or needle exchange, or any number of public issues, the policy is being made, without a real attention to the evidence. The first question that policy-makers should be asking is, “Well, what’s the evidence?” The first question that every citizen should be asking of the policy-makers is, “What’s the evidence?”

Here, look at this crowd here, does it look to you like these are self-interested people? They’re talking about what science brings to our society, what science brings to humanity, to ordinary people. Sure, they want to make sure that their research gets funded, but not so that they’ll have a cushy job. They want their research funded because the output of that research actually makes a difference in people’s lives.

There certainly have been cases throughout history where countries, where regimes have allowed politics to replace science. They’ve allowed opinion, and ideological assertion, and wishful thinking, to replace evidence. We mustn’t let that happen in the United States.

There’s no question, over the past century, a principal reason for the success of the United States of America, has been because of our investment in science, and our reliance on evidence.

We’ve been, over the centuries — the United States has been — a very empirical, evidence-based culture, evidence-based government, evidence-based society — not so much now. We have to restore that.

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