What I Would Say to President-Elect Trump and His Science Advisor


The implications of the elections were an undercurrent at our Board and Council meetings, and a topic of conversations throughout the Moscone Center. AGU has already taken steps to address our changing landscape, and our approach is evolving. If I had a chance as of today, based on what I’ve heard and assimilated, this is what I would say to President-Elect Trump. What would you say?

Dear President-Elect Trump:

I write to you from San Francisco, where the 49th annual American Geophysical Union meeting is well underway with over 23,000 scientists gathered to exchange the latest findings in Earth and space science, and talk in the hallways is about the direction our country will take and the role we will play. Like you, I am a President-elect due to take office in January. Although my transition to the helm of our 60,000-member scientific society is simple relative to yours, I share your desire to set the stage for a very productive term. Because science is one of the great engines of innovation that leads to health and prosperity, I believe we share some common interests for moving America and the world forward.

Scientific discovery is a uniquely human quest to understand the universe around us, whether it is admiring the bugs in our backyard or contemplating life that might have been on Mars or that could exist in distant galaxies. The Earth and space scientists who make up the various disciplines of the AGU, including hydrology, seismology, oceans sciences, planetary sciences, and many more, seek both basic knowledge and practical applications of science for human wellbeing. In so many cases, knowledge derived from basic research has led to unanticipated technologies with huge impacts. For example, the miniaturization of electronics necessary for the successful Apollo mission to the moon enabled a revolution of innovation, of which the modern cell phone is but one example. Most of our antibiotics were discovered by studying soil. Studying earthquakes has led to safer buildings and bridges. Hydrologic studies help protect investments in infrastructure from floods and forewarn drought. Atmospheric studies are the basis of improved weather prediction that helps farmers. Satellites are used to assess forest fire risk. Understanding solar flares helps protect our communication and energy systems. Changes in the ocean affect navigation and impacts our national security. The list goes on and on.

Keeping that list growing so that science continues as an engine of prosperity and wellbeing will require sustained investments by both the public and private sectors. Public sector support for science will enable discovery, which private sector entrepreneurial engineering turns into valuable products and services. Therefore, we look forward to the opportunity to work with your administration to strengthen investments in science and to develop partnerships that will accelerate discovery and its application.

For our part, AGU is redoubling its efforts to communicate the value of the Earth and space sciences to America and the world. We are urging and enabling our members to make connections across all sectors and in their local communities. We are leading a petition effort across scientific disciplines to encourage you to bring a Science Advisor into your inner circle.

We carefully guard our science as apolitical and non-partisan, and we stand for integrity and independence. We study the Earth to provide knowledge that can inform both profitable development and wise conservation of its water, air, soil, as well as mineral and energy resources. We study the Earth’s variation in climate, from the ice ages to the present, as well as the climates of other planets, to understand both natural and human impacts.

As I hope you can see, the Earth and space scientists that our organization represents are passionate about science. I have touched on only a small number of the rich contributions of Earth and space science to humanity, and to America’s future. My colleagues and I would welcome an opportunity to share with you in greater depth how our science touches every aspect of our daily lives.


Eric A. Davidson

President-Elect, The American Geophysical Union

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  1. John Morris

    This is quite good. I wonder if there may also be a benefit to articulating that Science isn’t a competing interest, but rather a tool for informing better decisions about them. It seems that many in the in-coming administration might consider science to be just another opinion to be weighed. Science doesn’t get to be science, without objectivity and repetition. As such, it offers decision makers a reliable standard for clearer communication and transparency. Thanks.

  2. Louise Pellerin

    Thank you Eric for thoughtfulness. I agree that we need to find ways to tell the story of our science in ways that non-scientists can relate.  Further, your ideas about how to engage the private sector in carrying the message to the new Administration is provocative – in a good way.  Thanks for your leadership and I look forward to seeing AGU’s plans take shape.

  3. Hugh Hudson

    That’s OK, but I’d suggest following Jerry Brown’s advice and not be so tepid. Where is the message about sudden global climate change?

  4. Mark Eakin

    Very nice statement, but I couldn’t help but notice you would say nothing about climate change. This is despite the AGU stand on climate change, including the initial statement “Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years. Rapid societal responses can significantly lessen negative outcomes.”

    I guess it would be a bit awkward, though, to raise this issue when Chevron remains a major sponsor of the Fall meeting and when a former ExxonMobil VP and 30 year employee sits on the AGU board. It might also be hard to explain why many of the union’s members have been leaving over AGU’s continued acceptance of fossil fuel money and why many of its members protested outside the recent Fall meeting.

    Of course, in what you wrote it might be hard to explain the contrast between two petitions. Why is there a major petition of your own members for AGU to follow its own rules and stop accepting funding from any organization that spreads science misinformation? What does that say about AGU’s credibility in petitioning President Trump to bring a Science Advisor into his inner circle? At this point, the two organizations seem in sync. Trump, like AGU will have a life-long ExxonMobil exploration engineer in his inner circle. Both the Trump campaign and the AGU Fall meeting boast oil company sponsorship.

    If the AGU strives to be a legitimate, independent voice of the scientific community, it must shed its fossil fuel funding.

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