For those who value science, there is little consolation in seeing Donald Trump occupy the White House. But New Scientist has scouted around, and found a few areas where things might continue as usual or even improve: space exploration, infrastructure, and certain kinds of drugs. But all of those come with big caveats.
Trump himself has said little about his plans for space exploration. But in a 19 October article for Space News, two of his space advisors – Robert S. Walker, former chairman of the House Science Committee, and Peter Navarro, an economist and public policy expert – sketched out the details of what a Trump NASA plan would look like. The upshot: more leaving Earth, less observing it.
“Today, [NASA] has been largely reduced to a logistics agency concentrating on space station resupply and politically correct environmental monitoring,” the pair wrote. “NASA’s core missions must be exploration and science – and inspirational!”
NASA should aim for human exploration of our “entire solar system” by the end of the century, they say. Meanwhile, Earth observation missions (many of which are helping us fight climate change) should be handed over to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, though there are no plans to increase that agency’s budget. Trump’s NASA will also probably keep partnering with private industry – a continuation of Obama’s space plans.
Trump struck a surprisingly New Deal-like note in his victory speech. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” he said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.”
That’s a useful promise, if he can deliver on it. As just one example of the state of the country’s infrastructure, nearly 10 per cent of America’s bridges (58,495 out of 609,539) are considered “structurally deficient” and need repairs, according to a study released in February by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. Given that a Trump presidency makes dangerous climate change more likely, boosting infrastructure should provide much-needed resilience against the elements.
Trump has proposed US$1 trillion in infrastructure spending, a staggering amount. But it’s not clear where he intends to find the money, given that he has also expressed a commitment to not raising taxes.
The biotech industry, which was worried about Hillary Clinton’s promises of regulation, seems relieved about Trump’s win – stock prices were up all over the world on 9 November. Trump has also promised to remove the ban on importing medicines, and speed up the approval of generic drugs. This could make such drugs cheaper and easier to access, but might mean pharmaceutical companies have fewer incentives to develop new drugs.
Another kind of drug had a great night on Tuesday. Recreational marijuana was legalised in California, Massachusetts and Nevada, and several other states passed medical marijuana provisions. It’s impossible to tell how a Trump administration will react to this development, but the man himself seems indifferent to it, so the measures stand a chance of sticking around.