The greatest threat from a Trump presidency may be his toxic brew of unscientific beliefs

Empty vessels make more noise.
Empty vessels make more noise.
Image: Reuters/Aly Song
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Luck isn’t the reason US scientists have earned the most Nobel Prizes of any country in the world. It is not a fluke that American scientists are at the forefront of solving the greatest problems the world faces today. It is also not just the fact that the US has the world’s biggest economy that has led it to also have its best scientists. Having the money helps, but it’s taken decades of smart policy and appropriate funding of scientific research to make the US the world leader in the sciences.

Donald Trump is capable of undoing that. It is not an understatement to say that the greatest threat to the world from a Trump presidency is probably going to be his science denial.

It will most likely start with Trump pulling the US out of the Paris climate deal, where the top polluters of the world pledged to cut down carbon emissions and ensure the global temperature doesn’t rise beyond 2° C compared to pre-industrial levels. He thinks global warming is a Chinese conspiracy. One of Trump’s first moves as president-elect, according to Scientific American, will likely be to assign Myron Ebell, one of the best-known climate change deniers in the US, to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition.

Although the climate deal came into force on Nov. 4, the commitments are not legally binding. If Trump pulls the US out and no more countries join, the entire climate deal could fall apart. The deal’s ratification needed at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of the global carbon emissions.

Even if the deal holds, without the US doing something to cut the 12% of global carbon emissions it is responsible for today, there’s not a lot the rest of the world can do to keep global temperature rise under 2° C. That, experts say, is a threshold to prevent irreversible damage

And that’s just the start. Trump’s beliefs on medical science are far outside the scientific consensus. For example, he believes the myth that vaccines cause autism. “A win from Donald Trump jeopardizes our ability to work towards new medicines to help families,” a research director of a small biotech focused on autism therapies told BuzzFeed.

Trump has in the past run a vitamin-selling company based on bad science. Many Americans voted for Trump because of his supposed business acumen, but if he is ready to make money by making unfounded scientific claims, it’s troubling to imagine what he’d do with the power to affect national scientific policies.

The biggest trouble, though, could from cutting government-funded science, which makes up most research in the US. He hasn’t said he will make such cuts and in the past science funding has received support from both Republicans and Democrats, but many are worried a Trump presidency would present budget concerns that could, in turn, lead to axing vital government funding. Even experts aren’t sure what Trump’s key policies really are, and the uncertainty doesn’t help.

Even worse, Trump’s anti-immigration stance could mean limiting or fully revoking freedom of movement for the world’s best scientists (be it Mexican, Muslim, LGBT, or the next sub-group Trump picks on). Our global problems require a collaborative approach and any restrictions could hurt our ability to address them.

Nothing about this year’s US election has been normal. So it was no surprise that some of the world’s biggest problems, like climate change, were never discussed during the presidential campaigns or debates. But now that we know Trump is at the helm, we can no longer ignore what his dangerous denial of science could do to the world.