Since the results of last November’s presidential election, members of the Yale community are mobilizing, with many roused from political indifference to rally around key issues. Yale’s STEM faculty are no exception.
Two School of Medicine professors, Katerina Politi and Valerie Reinke, took a stand last week when they published an opinion piece in The Washington Post. In their column, Politi and Reinke argue that President Donald Trump’s actions, including signing an executive order on immigration and appointing inexperienced nominees to lead federal agencies, pose a significant threat to U.S. scientific progress and leadership.
Politi and Reinke also draw attention to the importance of granting scientists not only adequate research funding and support but also the autonomy necessary for nurturing innovation. They cite historical examples like the communist regimes of Russia and China, during which governmental regulation and interference severely impacted the countries’ scientific progress.
“The continued success of U.S. scientific research requires expert leadership, consistent financial support and opportunities for the most talented individuals, including foreign scientists, women and minorities, to pursue scientific careers,” Politi and Reinke write.
Arguing that those with an aptitude for scientific inquiry come from many backgrounds, the Yale professors refer to studies showing that diversity in the workplace promotes creativity and productivity. They denounce the Trump administration’s immigration ban, a policy they say could set American scientific leadership back by preventing crucial international cooperation. Instead, they push for legislators to promote STEM education, especially for historically underrepresented populations.
Reinke said she was happy the op-ed received a positive response from faculty and students, as well as colleagues at other institutions. Dean of the Yale School of Medicine Robert Alpern said that he thought the column “covered many important issues,” although he declined to comment further on politics.
“We were concerned about rhetoric that was dismissive of scientific evidence supporting issues like climate change and the rhetoric surrounding discussions of gender, race and ethnicity during the campaign,” Politi said. “One of the things we know from our scientific lives is that diversity is a strength of science — something that enriches science and enriches our understanding of the world.”
Politi and Reinke both noted that although there have been no organized activities within their departments to address the Trump administration’s potential impact on science, they noticed that many colleagues have found their own ways to stand up for causes they believe in, such as attending the Jan. 29 Cross Campus candlelight vigil, the Women’s March on Washington and the IRIS Run for Refugees.
Pathology professor Zenta Walther ’86 said that the election has encouraged her to support a wider range of issues, adding that she has donated to various causes. Biology professor Valerie Horsley has also increased her political activity. A leader of the New Haven branch of Action Together CT, Horsley said the coalition has worked on many projects, such as organizing calls to action and supporting upcoming special elections in Connecticut.
University of Virginia professor Dean Kedes MED ’88 GRD ’88, a colleague of Reinke’s, praised the Yale professors for voicing their opinions. According to Kedes, UVA faculty are also engaging the undergraduate community on these issues. The UVA community is raising awareness for the March for Science, which is set to take place in Washington, D.C. on April 22, as well as helping facilitate transportation to the march.
Kedes highlighted the importance of bipartisan support for scientific research, pointing out that suppressing science can have “tremendous downstream effects” that will negatively impact both innovation and the economy.
“To me, the interesting thing is that there’s a strong tendency for scientists to be introverted people,” Reinke said. “If something can drag scientists out of the lab to make demonstrations, I think that is a powerful message. The fact that this sort of caught fire in this way suggests that there is a real need for it.”