Roughly two months after he met with President Donald Trump, Yale computer science professor David Gelernter ’76 is still in the running to be Trump’s science adviser.
In an interview with the News last month, Gelernter confirmed that he and Trump met in Manhattan on Jan. 16 to discuss his possible appointment. But since then, Gelernter has remained quiet about his potential role in the new presidential administration, telling the News on Thursday afternoon that as far as communication between him and members of Trump’s staff, there has been “none [he] can talk about.”
Still, he offered some perspective on how he viewed the role of the president’s science adviser. According to Gelernter, his main duties as science adviser would involve bringing important issues that might be overlooked outside the science and tech communities to the attention of the presidential administration, and answering any scientific questions raised by Trump or his staff.
Gelernter also emphasized the importance of the science adviser’s mission to encourage more people to pursue science, as many Americans capable of research in science or mathematics-based disciplines are choosing to study business or law instead, leaving graduate positions in scientific subjects to be filled by non-Americans.
“We’re profoundly lucky to have these visitors, and profoundly lucky when they stay to do the hard work of science and engineering at middle-class wages, while certain other people sit back and live it up,” Gelernter said. “Of course that’s their right, and of course we need successful businesses badly. But over the long term, this can’t possibly work — and it’s an ugly way to run a country.”
Gelernter also noted specific issues that the Trump administration must address, including man-made climate change, which he described as “a gigantic question that threatens to damage science’s reputation for integrity and probity.” To mitigate scientific conflicts over climate change, Gelernter suggested organizing a publicized meeting in which two panels of “first-rate believers” and “first-rate skeptics” would respectfully debate their stances on the issue, backing up claims with clear data.
While he has denied the existence of man-made climate change, Gelernter said that he would change his view if given evidence that he deems more convincing than what is available.
William Happer, a Princeton physics professor who has also publicly denied the existence of man-made climate change, is another contender for the job of science adviser. In an interview with the News, Happer said he would expect Gelernter to be “a great science adviser.”
Seven students surveyed said they were largely unaware of developments surrounding Gelernter’s possible appointment. Jakub Madej ’20 said he had not been following the situation, but said his selection for the role could call Trump’s scientific credibility into question given the professor’s controversial beliefs on climate change.
Still, Madej acknowledged that it is important that Trump is looking for scholars such as Gelernter to serve as advisers to his administration.
Other students also noted Gelernter’s credentials. Kyle Hietala ’18 said Gelernter has a strong background in education and science, and could be a good choice by Trump. Further, Nick Crosson ’20 said that despite Gelernter’s unconventional views, his accomplishments in computer science would allow him to serve as an effective science adviser.
Gelernter was a major player in inventing the field of parallel computation during the 1980s. Since then, he has written extensively about artificial intelligence, and in 2013 published a book called “America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats),” which critiqued the state of modern academia.