The Politicization Of Science Organizations: The Firing Of Michael Lubell

What might pass for a small item reveals much about the state of science, and in particular about science organizations.

The stately American Physical Society, a political-scientific, or scientific-political, or mere political advocacy group ash-canned its long-time lobbyist (a.k.a. political operative), a fellow named Michael Lubell, after Lubell tried to make nice with President-Already Donald Trump.

Science magazine reports “U.S. physics society removes chief lobbyist after controversial press release on Trump’s election“.

On 9 November, APS’s Washington, D.C., office issued a statement congratulating Trump and urging him and the new Congress “to make sustained and robust funding of scientific research a top priority.” Such policies, the statement notes, “will help the Trump administration achieve its goal captured in its slogan ‘Make America Great Again.'”

The press release immediately outraged some physicists, and APS withdrew it within a day. Lubell says the critics believed it suggested that APS was “getting in bed with Trump.” As reported last month by Retraction Watch, postings on social media included tweets saying “this is how German sci sold out Jewish sci” and “why not just go with ‘Physicists for fascism’ and be done with it?”

Outraged. This being the only emotion available to express everything from indifference to mild apprehension. It’s either bliss or blind rage for our academic leaders (and not only scientists) these days. Physicists for fascism. A phrase which proves academic scientists can be as hyperbolically snowflaky as the most precious snowflakes. It’s also a phrase which explains how routine scientific announcements nowadays make Chicken Little sounds like a California surfer who smoked too much weed. Don’t forget scientists are revered everywhere as our deepest thinkers.

Anyway, here’s the main point. Lubell was fired for putting forth a political banality and because his petulant and bratty audience wanted Lubell to instead express “outrage.” Now if this reminds you of children having a tantrum, it’s for good reason.

Here’s the kicker. Just days before his routine, and probably ignored-by-all-but-the-over-sensitive-and-bug-eyed press release, Lubell had taken to Twitter and dispensed loads of juvenile, ill-considered, and stupid statements cast to play to his core audience.

In Nature’s incorrectly named piece “Donald Trump’s US election win stuns scientists“, Lubell says:

“Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” says Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington DC. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.”

The choir, hearing that comfortable preaching, cheered.

Incidentally, the Nature piece has the wrong title, because not all scientists were stunned. Some, including Yours Truly, long and frequently predicted Trump would win. Not only that, we were happy about the event. With even greater force, I had made that prediction and those sentiments known to one of the Nature writers before the election, words which were set in ink in that very magazine.

That tale is recounted here. And it worth recounting because the announcement that some scientists dared support Trump made international news. It provoked at the time laughter and great sarcasm (especially on Twitter; many examples are given at link). It could not be imagined by those academic scientists that political views other than progressivism (which has a poor science record) were held by actual scientists. So much for the famed ability of scientists to consider alternative hypotheses.

Incidentally incidentally, the same reporter who sought me out for a quote asked me afterwards about the election, but my comments that time were sidelined to highlight the “shocked” angle. My exact words to Reardon on 9 November were:

I’m enormously pleased with Trump’s victory—which, incidentally, I predicted back in January http://wmbriggs.com/post/17621/.

I imagine the stigma which Trump supporters have will lift somewhat, if only for a while. But I’d bet most will still keep their heads down.

I’m hoping in particular Trump will rein in the EPA and other bureaucracies, who have turned too much science into politics. I’m also looking forward to not spending enormous sums of taxpayer money on so-called green energy schemes, a la Solyndra.

The stigma did not lift fast enough for Lubell. His petty purging will encourage others to keep their mouths shut.

To return to the main point. Science, in particular at top levels like the APS, is so intertwined with politics that there no clear line demarcating one from the other.

14 Comments

  1. A massive reduction in federal spending for science is long overdue. The evidence for very wide corruption in academic science, the fact that over half the publications in prestigious journals cannot be replicated and the evidence that climate scientists routinely manipulate weather data to support their political agendas demands a purge of university science departments.

  2. I like Physicists for Fascism.

    “Don’t forget scientists are revered everywhere as our deepest thinkers.” In an alternate reality maybe.

  3. You were a lot more prescient than I was regarding the election. I didn’t watch TV news for a couple of weeks prior to the election. I believed the polls and was depressed over a Hillary Clinton win. I finally checked out the results about 1:30 AM on the morning following the election, and was pleasantly astonished that Clinton had lost.

  4. Interesting photo. Is it from a movie? Considering the drunkenly reversed “lock and load” command implies that weapons aren’t normally loaded probably for safety reasons, one has to wonder why the firing squad is holding their weapons at the ready position vs. parade rest when the target area has an obvious non-target. OTOH, the guy in the suit could be a target too — one of those scientific-politicals perhaps.

  5. Don’t forget scientists are revered everywhere as our deepest thinkers.
    Not since Lysenko. Scientists paid for by the government routinely lie.

  6. Outraged! Nothing succeeds like excess, as they say. Merely being miffed won’t cut it.

    According to Wikipedia, “Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete, and they regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict…” so at least in spirit it seems the government-funded, academia-protected, media-touted American Physical Society aligns with an ideological sort of fascism.

  7. There is a tendency for the Left (sometimes the Right) to focus on one thing and let it outweigh all the rest. Many of the never-Trumpers, including Lubell, did so. This tendency was highlighted by a recent National Review post discussing Carrie Fisher’s character in Star Wars with regard to feminism. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443378/carrie-fisher-princess-leia-star-wars-female-romantic-lead-feminism

    Not to mention the claim of Trump’s supposed racism
    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443415/angry-white-men-trump

    This tendency is also evident in the weeping and gnashing of teeth over Trump’s intended reining-in of federal agencies who have strayed off-course like NASA’s climate research and the many sins of the EPA.

  8. Back in the day I left the American Mathematical Society because it had become too political. The mission statement on ams.org even now sounds innocuous enough, but it is significantly at variance with what I observed in real life.

    Google “Donald Trump” on ams.org and see what you find.

    In case it matters to anyone reading this, I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Vanderbilt University, 1995.

  9. So, I perused through the APS site and scrolled through what seemed like hundreds of press releases and news site references, and I couldn’t find anything with any political bent at all. I’m wondering if this fellow got in some trouble for simply making any statement on the subject at all, regardless of bent. Assuming it was political retaliation for a piece that couldn’t possibly be considered an endorsement of Trump seems like kooky speculation to me. It could be just the opposite! They could have been trying to avoid Trump’s ire! Again, though, all speculative. I lean toward the first and/or third possibility I have above.

    JMJ

  10. From the AMS website,” Racism and sexism are real forces in America.”
    Have you ever noticed that leftist liberals are obsessed with sex, race and money? Not their own, mind you, but the sex, race and money of other people. They just can’t stop talking about. It’s obviously obsessive compulsive behavior. They even have names for this obsession, sexism, racism, classism. When some lefty calls you a racist, they are claiming you are obsessed with race. This is obviously classical psychological projection.

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