As Expected: Science Suffocation Proposals Continued/Expanded

As expected, and nicely summarized by the American Institute of Physics:

President Trump’s latest budget request largely repeats past proposals to sharply reduce funding for non-defense R&D programs across the federal government. However, it includes a stronger emphasis on research tied to the administration’s “Industries of the Future” focus areas, especially artificial intelligence and quantum information science.
— Read on‘future’-industries

Contempt for Science and Health in the FY2021 Budget Proposal

The Washington Post article below [1] is a nice summary of what is currently digested from the executive branch’s FY2021 federal budget proposal. That dropped yesterday. Specifically regarding agencies that fund basic, curiosity-driven science, these excerpts are indicative of the pattern of proposed effects:

The Energy Department would get a boost in funding for safeguarding the nuclear weapons stockpile, a core mission, but outside that program would see a 28.7 percent cut, including more than 1 billion cut from its $7 billion science program.

Zeroed out in the Trump budget is funding for a new space telescope, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which is entering its construction phase. WFIRST would scrutinize planets orbiting distant stars and study the distribution of galaxies in an attempt to better understand the evolution of the universe. It remains a priority of the astronomy community and has survived two previous attempts by the administration to kill its funding.

Under the request, the National Science Foundation’s budget would shrink from $8.3 billion in 2020 to $7.7 billion in 2021, a cut of about 7 percent. The NSF funds basic research through grants to a wide variety of scientists and plays a major role in funneling money to programs that might not normally receive investment from the private sector. The Trump budget reduction would return NSF’s budget to close to the level it was in 2017.

(from Ref. 1)

The typical pattern in the proposal follows past efforts: fund defense and applied science, starve basic research, decapitate environmental science.

The proposal is likely dead on arrival, as have been past proposals from this president. It matters now what Congress decides to actually do to allocate the budget, especially since the president’s budget does not attempt to reign in the federal spending deficit in event the next decade.


Dead On Arrival

Summary of proposed vs. enacted spending on science agencies in FY2020. From Reference 1.

For almost four years, the executive branch of the United States government has been advocating steadily for a decline of science funding for the nation. In spite of this, the U.S. Congress has acted as a firewall against these requests, effectively making every budget request for cuts to scientific investment dead-on-arrival (with some notable exceptions, of course, in environmental science, where the executive branch has done serious damage aided by the Congress). In this post, I’ll focus on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, NASA Science, and the National Science Foundation, as these are the primary funders of non-applied, curiosity-driven science in the U.S. I realize I am leaving the National Institutes of Health (NIH) off of this (among others – see above); NIH’s scientific investment is geared toward actively improving human health, which while valuable definitely falls under the idea of “applied science”. Here, I want to focus on those agencies with the clearest pure-science missions, even if I certainly value human health.

Continue reading “Dead On Arrival”

Critical Thinking Guide: President Trump’s First National Address

Tonight, President Trump will address the nation during prime time (9pm EST). Major networks will carry the speech. The Democratic leadership will rebut the speech afterward. The speech is expected to focus on the following claims from the President:

  1. There is a national security crisis at the southern U.S. border.
  2. The crisis is the result of an historic wave of illegal immigration through that border outside of checkpoints and border crossings.
  3. Only the President’s oft-repeated “wall” can solve the problem.

This is a brief guide to thinking critically about the claims of the President.

Baseline Statistics on President Trump’s Honesty

President Trump’s honesty when he makes claims has been assessed independently by a number of fact-checking organizations. Typical information gleaned from these analyses is as follows:

  • President Trump lies about 70% of the time he utters a claim. For instance, PoltiFact’s Trump Scorecard indicates 444 claims that were mostly false, false, or “pants on fire” out of a total of 638 evaluated (and fairly distinct) claims. He repeats a lot of his false claims over and over.
  • The Washington Post Fact Checker tracks false claims vs. time and found that as of Dec. 30, in the first 710 days of his presidency, he has made a whopping 7645 false claims… that’s an average of about 11 per day, and that’s an increase over time. He utters more false claims per day now than he did in the first half of those 710 days.

Helping You Navigate Claims

Things to watch out for:

  • The President is an adept liar and propagandist. Watch out for logical fallacies typical of his style:
    • The Either/Or Fallacy: the misleading argument that there are only two solutions to a complex problem, and you have to choose one or the other.
    • The Ad Hominem Attack: making personal attacks on opponents, which distracts the audience from thinking critically about your actual substantive claims.
    • The Straw Man Fallacy: defining your opponent in base and simple terms so that it’s easier to attack them or knock them down. For instance, painting all people who attempt to cross the southern border as “murderers” or “rapists,” or in general “criminals”. See the Washington Post’s cheat sheet to understand the real demographics of people currently attempting to enter the U.S. through the southern border (below).
    • Cherry Picking: selectively only emphasizing a minority of data to portray the majority. For instance, the President likes to cite the few cases of violent crimes by illegal immigrants, even though that population commits such crimes at a rate less than that of U.S. citizens.
    • Appeal to Emotion: using language intended to make you angry or sad, which then by-passes your critical thinking mechanisms to evaluating the real claim.
    • False Equivalency: describing two things as if they are the same, when they are not. For instance, claiming that migrants seeking asylum is the same as illegal immigration (these are highly distinct things, especially in the eyes of the law). Another example would be equating all illegal immigration to southwest border illegal immigration. In fact, most illegal immigration is done by overstaying a visa, and the single largest culprits in that category are from Canada, then Mexico.

The above are a few ways the President, or any skilled propagandist, will attempt to deceive you by short-circuiting your slower and more careful critical thinking mechanisms. Remember, the burden is on the President to justify that (1) there is a national security crisis, a physical threat to the U.S. due to unique circumstances at the southern border, (2) that the attempts by people to enter the U.S. illegally are the primary means of implementing this threat and (3) that the numbers of illegal immigrants, people who cross the border without the intent of seeking asylum or other legal means, can be stopped by spending $5.7 billion to construct about 200 miles of wall.

The Washington Post has already cataloged a cheat sheet to help you unwind the 20 mostly likely claims the President will make or repeat tonight:

Keep this resource handy if you choose to listen to what I believe will largely be a misleading propaganda speech intended to shore up support from his base, but otherwise attempt to mis-inform the general public (based on the data from his past behavior).


Here are links to the President’s speech and the rebuttal by Democratic leadership:

Here is the Washington Post Fact Checker’s evaluation of the president’s claims: claim evaluation from Jan. 9, 2019.