• Doug Neckers

Scientific and Medical Editors Oppose Trump

Updated: Apr 29


For as long as I’ve been a scientist -- almost 60 years -- new issues of the major

academic journals have been anxiously anticipated because they carry the latest scientific and medical information. Most of those I read are published by professional organizations - the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, and the Materials Research Society. A few are privately published.


They have often been alive with scientific arguments, but have never taken any kind of partisan political stands. That was taboo, and I doubt that any of their editors or editorial boards even considered it. But that has changed with the arrival of COVID-19. Not that the coronavirus itself caused these journals to change -- rather, it has been the Trump administration’s highly irrational and irresponsible response to the pandemic.


The opinion of every prestigious journal that has taken a position is the same: In

every case, they say this administration has to be removed because of the sheer harm its bungled response to the pandemic has done and is doing to science, our nation and the world. The New England Journal of Medicine titled its Oct. 8 editorial “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum.”


Scientific American, a popular, though serious scientific publication is the oldest

continuously published magazine in the United States; it has appeared regularly since 1845.


In all that time, it has never endorsed a candidate for President. Not when

politicians were attacking the theory of evolution; not in the aftermath of the Scopes trial; not when Ronald Reagan was trying to sell us on a wacky missile defense system the press dubbed “Star Wars.”


But this year, it broke that tradition. On September 15, it endorsed Democratic

presidential nominee Joe Biden. “We did not move to endorse a candidate lightly. The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people -- because he rejects evidence and science.


Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures has been catastrophic,” it said, citing his “dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”


The Lancet, the most respected British medical journal, and its editor-in-chief

Richard Horton, was an early strong critic of the Trump administration. In a new book, The COVID-19 Catastrophe: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Stop It Happening Again, he writes:

“The story of COVID-19 in the United States is one of the strangest paradoxes of the whole pandemic. No other country in the world has the concentration of scientific skill, technical knowledge and productive capacity possessed by the U.S. It is the world’s scientific superpower bar none. And yet this colossus of science utterly failed to bring its expertise successfully to bear on the policy and politics of the nation’s response.”

Holden Thorp, a chemist friend of mine, and former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the editor of Science, the signature publication of the AAAS.


Thorp began criticizing Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis as early as

March. In an item on his blog in August he targeted the advisors that surround Trump – Dr. Scott Atlas, for example: In an editorial entitled “Atlas shrugs” Thorp hammers the new appointee – a neuroradiologist spreading misinformation about the virus in what seemed a clear attempt to placate Trump and his narrative that COVID-19 is not an emergency. 


“’Janeway’s Immunobiology’, would be an excellent place for Atlas to “brush up” on the facts… that is if he wants to understand the science,” Thorp snorted. 

And the usually reserved New England Journal of Medicine minced no words: ‘Covid- 19 has created a crisis throughout the world. Here in the U. S. the magnitude of this leadership failure is astounding. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.

We had ample warning. But we failed at almost every step.  At the beginning we couldn’t even provide basic health care protection to frontline workers. And we are still way behind the curve in testing.”


Incidentally, one might ask, ‘why test?’ Simply, because those that test positive for the disease have the ability to pass it on, and need to be identified. And our nation instituted quarantines and isolation measures late and inconsistently.


The bottom line, the New England Journal continued, is that the United States should have come into this crisis with enormous advantages.  “But the response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate ….  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been eviscerated; the National Institutes of Health has been excluded from crucial decision making; the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully political; and our current leaders have undercut a trust in science and in government causing damage that will certainly outlast them.


“Instead of relying on experts, the administration has turned to uninformed ‘opinion leaders,’ and charlatans who obscure the truth,” and help peddle lies,” the journal noted.


It concluded, “When it comes to their response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current leaders have shown themselves dangerously incompetent.  We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”


Scientists traditionally avoid politics in favor of research into the rational, finding facts that can be demonstrably proven. But to the scientific establishment, it is clear that they have to take a political stand this time – to protect the rational from being destroyed by irrational politics. 


Douglas Neckers is an organic chemist, the McMaster distinguished professor emeritus and the founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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