Trump's dangerous anti-science agenda may very well be his longest-lasting legacy.
Since the day Trump took office, his administration — with the help of Republicans in Congress — has waged war on science, prioritizing industry interests instead of evidence and putting their right-wing agenda ahead of the public good.
Now, public health experts and former government officials who have worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations are warning that this pattern of putting politics ahead of science is endangering the health and safety of Americans in ways that have never been seen before, with consequences that could last far into the future.
"It's as egregious as I've ever seen it, starting from the very top with the president just denying the existence of science, manipulating the system on behalf of special interests," former surgeon general Richard Carmona told the Guardian.
While the Trump administration's hostility toward climate science has often taken center stage (for good reason), this has allowed other anti-science policies — and their devastating human impact — to go unnoticed.
For example, the administration dismissed evidence showing that healthier school lunch standards established during the Obama administration were not only effective in encouraging kids to eat healthier foods but could prevent nearly 2 million cases of childhood obesity over the next decade.
In December, the Department of Agriculture rolled back the healthier lunch standards, which had required schools to serve meals with more whole grains, less salt, and nonfat milk.
The consequences of the decision could affect children for the rest of their lives. Research shows that whole grains help children concentrate better in school, and also contribute to healthy weight maintenance. In contrast, refined grains can cause people to overeat and promote weight gain, leading to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
With more than half of the U.S. schoolchildren on track to be obese by age 35, the decision to roll back school lunch standards could put even more children at risk of obesity and associated diseases.
In another anti-science move, the Trump administration has cut funding for sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programs, replacing comprehensive evidence-based programs with ineffective abstinence-only education.
While comprehensive sex education has been shown to promote healthy sexual behavior, reduce teen pregnancy, increase contraceptive use, and reduce sexually transmitted infection rates, the opposite is true for abstinence-only programs.
Compared to teenagers who receive abstinence-only education, teens who receive comprehensive sex education are 60 percent less likely to get pregnant.
In fact, because abstinence-only education programs withhold critical information on safe sex and pregnancy prevention, they are associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors, leading to higher rates of teen pregnancy and certain sexually transmitted infections.
That helps explain why states with abstinence-only education in schools have the highest rates of teen pregnancies — and the Trump administration's anti-science agenda will likely only make the problem worse.
When it comes to sex education policies, "The administration is really not using science," Sara Flowers, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood, told The Guardian. "The administration is really using ideology, and those are very different."
Scientists also expressed alarm at the administration's decision to overturn a ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which was is associated with serious health problems and developmental delays in children, as well as sickness and even death among people of all ages.
The pesticide was set to be banned, but in March 2017, Trump's EPA reversed course and decided not to implement the ban. A short time later, the chemical was blamed for sickening nearly 50 farm workers in California.
The Guardian's report on the far-reaching consequences of the Trump administration's anti-science agenda comes just days after the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published a report deeming 2018 to be a "banner year in the war on science."
In a list highlighting the most egregious attacks on science by Trump and his GOP allies, the Bulletin pointed to trends such as the surge of anti-vaccine beliefs among Republican lawmakers (including Trump), as well as Trump's rejection of evidence documenting Hurricane Maria's death toll in Puerto Rico, which was estimated at 3,000 people — a number that stands in stark contrast to Trump's claim that less than a dozen people died.
Among the other attacks on science highlighted by the Bulletin were the administration's attempt to sabotage a U.N. resolution promoting global breastfeeding guidance, and an attempt by the Department of Health and Human Services to define transgender and intersex people out of existence.
These anti-science policies and positions are in line with Trump's agenda from the very beginning of his presidency.
For the past two years, the Trump administration has taken aim at science by undermining the role of evidence in public policy, cutting funding for vital programs, rolling back critical health and safety regulations, peddling pseudoscience and disinformation, and limiting public access to scientific information and data.
These actions not only pose an immediate threat to the health and safety of the American population, but also limit our ability to confront future challenges. Of all the reckless and destructive decisions Trump has made, his war on science may very well be his longest lasting legacy.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.