Top scientists rail against US voters' inability to separate fact from fiction after 'horrific' election result

The votes are still being counted but one researcher regretted that the results did not repudiate Donald Trump’s presidency, while another saw it as a rejection of reality


                            Top scientists rail against US voters' inability to separate fact from fiction after 'horrific' election result
(Getty Images)

As votes are still being counted in key battleground states and the election inches closer to an outcome, leading scientists have referred to the bitterly contested US presidential election as ‘horrific’ after it failed to deliver a landslide victory for former vice president and Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, that they had hoped for. Some saw it as a sign of their “failure to communicate the importance of science, evidence, and truth” to the Americans, according to a report by a top scientific journal.

Even as the votes are still being tallied and Biden currently has a lead against Donald Trump, it is still unclear who will win the election. Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, described it as ‘horrific.’ While one expert regretted that the results were not a complete dismissal of Donald Trump’s presidency, another saw it as a rejection of reality. “It is depressing to see that the American electorate has not heeded the evidence of the last four years to give a strong message about the damage being caused by Trump’s actions and behavior, for their own country as well as the wider world,” Athene Donald, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, told Nature. First published on November 4, 1869, Nature is an international weekly journal of science.

Michael Lubell, a physicist at the City College of New York who tracks science policy, argued that the results may be a reflection of the value that people in the US place on truth. “What I see is people rejecting reality, and opting more for a reality show. And that to me is frightening,” he added.

Another scientist, James Lindley Wilson, who studies elections and democracy at the University of Chicago, rued that the election “is not going to be a decisive national categorical repudiation of Trump, regardless of who wins the presidency.”

A researcher said that the results may be a reflection of the value that people in the US place on truth (Getty Images)

Over the last several months, Trump has often played down the Covid-19 crisis, offering false, misleading, or ignorant statements, which have been widely criticized by the scientific community. Trump’s first term has been so disruptive to the scientific enterprise that it has prompted some high-profile scientific publications, including Nature, to endorse Biden. For example, stating that no US president in recent history other than Donald Trump has so “relentlessly attacked and undermined so many valuable institutions” — from science agencies to the media, the courts, the Department of Justice, and even the electoral system — Nature endorsed Biden for US president last month. 

“His (Trump) administration has picked fights with the country’s long-standing friends and allies, and walked away from crucial international scientific and environmental agreements and organizations: notably, the 2015 Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the United Nations’ science and education agency UNESCO, and even, unthinkable in the middle of a pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO). On the domestic front, one of this administration’s most dangerous legacies will be its shameful record of interference in health and science agencies — thus undermining public trust in the very institutions that are essential to keeping people safe,” the journal had said. It added, “We cannot stand by and let science be undermined. Joe Biden’s trust in truth, evidence, science, and democracy make him the only choice in the US election.”

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) also published an editorial condemning the Trump administration for its poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While the medical journal did not endorse any particular candidate, it asked Americans to vote out the current “dangerously incompetent” political leadership for its failure to tackle the Covid-19 crisis.

In the current article, some researchers vowed to work harder to connect with the people and communicate the importance of facts. Naomi Oreskes, a science historian at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, emphasized that “we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Nature had also conducted a poll of its scientist readers ahead of the November 3 vote and the results revealed that of the 580 who responded, 87% planned to vote for Biden. They cited climate change and the US response to the Covid-19 pandemic as primary reasons. 

“I am very hurt by the actions of this man, who happens to be president of the country. I cannot wait for a change. I am just crossing my fingers,” said Gerardo Chowell-Puente, an epidemiological modeler at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

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