Scientists versus Trump: ′The worries are justified′ | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 17.02.2017
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Scientists versus Trump: 'The worries are justified'

Many US scientists fear that their work under President Trump could become more complicated - even in international cooperation. German researchers seem to agree.

US scientists have it hard under US President Donald Trump. The fact that there may be problems had already become clear before he came in to office. Since then it hasn't been any easier. Only a few hours after arriving in January, information pages on climate change disappeared from the White House website. Even more unrest followed not one week later, when the first instructions for authorities and science institutes came down the line.

This is causing all sorts of concerns throughout the science community - not just in the United States. German researchers are also now thinking about their future collaboration in the field of science. Some have already formulated clear ideas as to how they would like to approach Trump in the future. DW spoke to several of them.

The impact on international research

Georg Teutsch, geohydrologist and scientific director of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, believes the concerns of scientists in the United States are justified. "They have started with the appointment of a new head for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who is not exactly a friend of the institution," Teutsch said, referring to the lawyer Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic who had previously filed complaints against the EPA.

The new situation could also have a significant impact on cooperative projects and the work of the scientists. On the one hand, there could be less support for projects directly dealing with climate change. On the other, issues may arise as to how the results of such studies are to be circumvented in the future. Concerned about data disappearance, climate researchers in the US in December already began backing up scientific date to external servers that were not accessible to government authorities.

Open date as a guideline

DLR NASA Kooperation (NASA)

Jan Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), sees no signs of change in the cooperation between NASA and its European counterpart. "We are still in close contact with NASA," Wörner said, before adding that he had already made contact with the transition team that had been established following the election. He said he hoped the stable situation can be maintained, before adding: "ESA has a clear policy: a free and open data policy."

The fact that NASA is also afraid of restrictions on data and open policies has recently been shown as they, as well as other state science and environmental agencies, have set up alternate twitter accounts.

"Even during the Cold War, there was lively exchange between the two blocs at a scientific level," adds Thomas Reiter, head of ESA's manned robotic space explorer. There have always been exchanges in difficult times, including scientific data - not only between East and West but also with China. The maintenance of communication channels between different countries contributed to international understanding.

"It would be absolutely fatal, of course, if there were restrictions on the American side today," says Reitner, who believes that German researchers are a mediator between East and West. "In the past, we have often played this role in space missions such as the ISS program and ExoMars, and I believe we can and will continue to do so."

Protest for the freedom of science

The fact that they have so quickly become the focus of the new US government has surprised many scientists. But the response to that was also quite fast: Twitter calls for solidarity and resistance will culminate on April 22 - Earth Day - when a "March for Science" will take place in Washington and numerous other cities across the US and Europe.

The protest is, among other things, a direct response to an announcement that said employees of the EPA may only issue public statements and press releases after consultation with the government. The EPA homepage is also a hot topic, with no new content being published since the election.

In mid-February, German Education Minister Johanna Wanka demanded in Berlin that "German interests must in any case be preserved" in any research with the US. As she explained, it was vitally important to determine who had access to raw data in such projects.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), one of the world's largest funding organizations for students and academics, also called for an "open" climate in the US. The DAAD's president, Margret Wintermantel, said she was "terrified" because many of Trump's statements had not previously been imaginable coming from the US. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the US top universities continue to be highly attractive for German young scientists and students.

In the current environment, some scientists with European roots say they are seriously thinking of relocating across the Atlantic. Teutsch said "I cannot hide from it: the recruitment of particularly talented American or European scientists in the US is something we are looking at and looking at more closely."

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