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 https://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.