It is likely that the presidency of Donald PG Trump will be characterised not by what he does or is unable to do (building a wall, expelling Mexicans) but by what he will destroy.
Scientific progress is, by its nature, necessarily slow. The gathering, testing and re-testing of evidence is as slow as it is painstaking. So it takes time to demonstrate that climate change is being caused by human beings. It takes time to demonstrate that vaccines do not cause autism.
It takes only a tweet, particularly from someone who is one of the most powerful people in the world, to arm and encourage the opponents of science.
If the president says that the jury is still out on the theory of evolution, the creationists gain strength. If he appoints a creationist as Secretary of Education, he weakens the teaching of evolutionary theory which in turn weakens the teaching of science more generally. But it also encourages the teaching of creationism, made all the more dangerous because it is taught as an alternative form of “science”.
We must be very clear that this represents a step back towards the Dark Ages.
The same applies to the appointment of climate sceptics to agencies responsible for environmental protection.
It also applies to the appointment of anti-vaxxers to scientific panels and health regulatory bodies responsible for ensuring the health of a nation’s children.
Robert F Kennedy jnr son Bobby Kennedy, a former United States Attorney General
Prominent vaccine sceptic Robert F Kennedy jnr, who will lead a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity, has linked some vaccinations to autism, a belief the President-elect appears to share.
Kennedy has been a notable proponent of nonmedical exemptions for parents who seek to prevent their children from being vaccinated, which is mandatory in most states.
He has argued that mercury-based additives in vaccines explain the link to autism. And he has alleged that government scientists, journalists and pharmaceutical companies have colluded to hide the truth from the public.
“They get the shot. That night they have a fever of 103. They go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone,” Kennedy said at the premiere of an anti-vaccination film screening in California in 2015. “This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”
Appointments such as Kennedy’s are extremely dangerous because the damage that can be done to existing scientific thought and science-based policy can be well-nigh irreparable.
“The lights will be going out all over America, we may not see them lit again in our life-time.” ( apologies to Sir Edward Grey)