In an interview with the New Republic, Dr. Rush Holt who is the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Holt described the threat presently facing the scientific community as “existential.”
“The level of concern and anxiety among scientists—and I guess I’d say the science friendly public—about the place of science in society and government, has gone beyond concern to anxiety,” Holt explained, noting that this particular moment is especially of concern.
Holt told the outlet that the fear among those in the science community used to be one of whether or not they would receive research funding, but “that’s not so much what we’re hearing now … The concern now is whether policymakers even understand the meaning of evidence. Whether there is any truth to this descriptor of ‘fact-free era.'”
In the wake of Trump, Holt described a concern that the public is choosing to disregard factual evidence as “optional.” Even so, many of these concerns exist independently of Trump.
“It is true that when people are appointed to positions and talk without any appreciation or understanding of scientists, well, that gets scientists worried. And when public officials talk about alternative facts, people who have devoted their careers to trying to uncover facts are dismayed,” Holt explained. “But this type of rhetoric has been present in politics for some time.
“There is a sense that science and politics are incompatible. I don’t think so at all,” he said. “I think it’s important that scientists take great pains to make sure that ideology and personal bias and wishful thinking do not contaminate the collection and analysis and evidence.”
Holt argued, instead, that scientists should go into the public sphere. “There’s no reason why” they shouldn’t, he said.
He went on to explain the very significant threat facing communities in the wake of a post-fact world. “If evidence becomes optional, if ideological assertions or beliefs are just as good as scientifically vetted evidence, then their quality of life suffers,” Holt said.
“There’s a level of concern unlike anything I’ve seen.”