But this is Trump we’re talking about. This week, the White House finally announced initial appointments to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and — to no one’s shock at all — it’s overwhelmingly dominated by industry interests. The message the White House is sending once again is clear: This is an administration of business, not science.
Of the seven announced members on Trump’s council, only one — K. Birgitta Whaley, an expert in quantum physics at the University of California at Berkeley — works at an academic institution. Two don’t have doctoral degrees, The Post reported Tuesday.
The most troubling of the new members is A.N. Sreeram, chief technology officer at Dow Chemical, a company that has already played an unseemly role in the Trump administration. The chemical company donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration funds, and its then-chief executive, Andrew Liveris, served as an adviser to the president early in the administration and helped develop a 2017 executive order directing government agencies to evaluate federal regulations that were supposedly “punishing companies.” Later, the administration reversed course on a proposal to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide then produced by Dow Chemical, despite conclusions from the Environmental Protection Agency that it has harmful effects on children’s brain development.
Sreeram himself has made alarming statements. Last year, he said in an interview with the Economic Times that lithium ion battery-powered cars were a “fad,” downplaying the threat of global warming and promoting diesel-fueled vehicles. “I am glad that the globe is warming, because Michigan was under 2 km of snow 12,000 years ago,” Sreeram said.
Sreeram declined to comment for this article, though a representative from Dow Chemical said the quote doesn’t reflect the views of the company.
That Trump is staffing his scientific advisory council with mostly industry voices doesn’t tell us much new about the president. For almost three years, his administration has been ignoring, silencing and disparaging scientists, including those in his own agencies.
But the White House council has some symbolic significance. Since the Truman administration, the president’s scientific advisory council has served primarily as an institution of good governance. Previous White Houses have displayed it as evidence that the president is listening to scientists on the pressing scientific issues facing the nation. That’s why previous administrations — Republican and Democratic alike — have named members of their council in the first year of their terms. Barack Obama announced several of his appointees as president-elect.
It’s not wrong for the council to include industry voices; a major part of the council’s purpose is to advise the president on the technology challenges facing the U.S. economy. We should want smart business people to contribute to the president’s understanding of these issues. But to have a council tilted so far toward industry voices only furthers the expectation that Trump’s decisions will fall in their favor or that their reports might ignore pressing scientific issues, such as the effects of climate change.
The White House has time to correct this. The council is expected to expand to 16 members, giving the president plenty of space to appoint independent thinkers. But it’s difficult to imagine him embracing the task. Nor will it be easy for the White House to find bona fide scientists who are willing to take on the job if it means years of being disparaged or ignored.
Such is reality when the president touts drilling on public land while denigrating the Endangered Species Act; promoting the coal industry while downplaying climate change; and staffing his administration with business interests while gutting government science agencies. And every time industry interests win out over scientists, there’s one clear loser: the public.