With the reelection of President George W. Bush ’68 and gains by the Republican majority in Congress, scientific issues were largely eclipsed by discussion of the economy, war and same-sex marriages. But members of Yale’s medical and environmental science communities said they would be affected by Tuesday’s results.
Professors at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies said they were deeply concerned about the scientific policies of a second Bush administration. But their colleagues at the Yale School of Medicine were cautiously optimistic about progress in some areas.
Gustave Speth, the dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said he thought Bush’s reelection will seriously jeopardize environmental protection, especially with respect to global warming.
“The biggest threat is a continuation of Bush’s policies on climate change,” Speth said in an e-mail. “Climate change is the major environmental challenge of our time, and Bush’s policies, thus far, could not have been worse.”
Speth said the environment school will hold a meeting of students, staff and faculty today to discuss the election and possible strategies for environmental progress.
Garry Brewer, a professor of resource policy and management at the environment school and the Yale School of Management, said although preserving environmental protection is always time-consuming, difficult and expensive, he would have been less anxious about future policies had Sen. John Kerry ’66 been elected.
“We’ve had four years of Bush’s policies, and past is prologue,” Brewer said. “The evidence is there for all to see. There has been low priority given to the environment and a backsliding of reasonable and constructive environmental policies.”
Though Bush backed the Clear Skies Initiative, passed in 2003 to raise air quality standards and control power plant emissions, Brewer said in reality it has done little to protect air quality.
Brewer said he thought the government ought to prioritize initiatives to find alternative energy sources and protect the ocean from pollution and global warming.
“We need a well-articulated, comprehensive oceans policy,” he said. “We also need to get rid of coal. We are so heavily dependent on it and keep creating more air pollution and waste disposal problems.”
But School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said a major concern for the medical school is how the Bush administration will fund the National Institutes of Health, since half of the school’s budget is from research grants, the majority of which come through the NIH. But he said the election of Sen. John Kerry ’66 as president would not necessarily have guaranteed better NIH funding, given other costly budgetary priorities.
“It is hard to know,” Alpern said. “I think there is a general belief that Bush will be less likely to provide the NIH with more funding, but time will tell. Even if Kerry had won, I would still be nervous.”
Alpern said he is optimistic about a Republican push for tort reform to limit the magnitude of medical malpractice lawsuits.
“It’s hard to say if it would lower health care costs,” Alpern said. “But right now I’m afraid that the size of these lawsuits is going to drive people out of the medical profession.”
Psychiatry and neurosurgery professor Eugene Redmond Jr. said despite Bush’s limitation of federally funded embryonic stem cell research to pre-existing lines in 2001, he was optimistic research funding may grow in coming years.
“I am very hopeful that the administration will find a way to extend stem cell research,” Redmond said.
Redmond, who uses human embryonic stem cells to research treatments for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, said he views the direct democracy vote for Proposition 71 in Calif., which would allocate almost $300 million a year in state funds for stem cell research, as a major bright spot in the election.
“It has implications for the rest of the country,” he said. “It makes it clear to the Bush administration that this was a very popular initiative in California. Stem cell research has been shown to be popular in many national polls as well.”