The other day, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, took yet another step to muzzle the scientific inquiry that for years has informed sound policy at an agency he seems determined to destroy. He told his subordinates that they could no longer make policy on the basis of studies that included data from participants who were guaranteed confidentiality. Over the years, such studies have been crucial to establishing links between mortality and pollution, led to regulations and saved many lives. Limiting policymakers to only those studies with publicly available health data greatly narrows the field of research.
This got us to searching again (we’ve been here before with Mr. Pruitt) for the word that best describes the Trump administration’s hostility to scientific inquiry. “Disdain” jumps to mind. Fourteen months into his term, President Trump has yet to name a director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or any of the four associate directors authorized by Congress — jobs that have provided presidents for decades with unbiased counsel.
There’s another word: Fear. From the top down, the people who run this government seem absolutely terrified of scientific inquiry and the ways in which it could threaten Mr. Trump’s promise to ease regulations on fossil fuel companies and increase their profits, no matter the cost to public health and the planet. Think of it from Mr. Trump’s point of view. Why would he want a science adviser telling him that the link between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels is incontrovertible, that he should stick with the Paris agreement on climate change, that it’s a grave mistake to repudiate every one of President Obama’s efforts to slow the dangerous warming of the earth’s atmosphere?
Far better to stick his head in the sand, ostrichlike; do that, and the need for policies regulating greenhouse gas emissions or dangerous pollutants like soot and mercury magically disappears. Which is certainly Mr. Pruitt’s modus operandi. As Gina McCarthy, a former E.P.A. administrator, and her deputy for air quality, Janet McCabe, said in a recent Times Op-Ed: “Mr. Pruitt’s goal is simple: No studies, no data, no rules.”