Explaining the popularity of Donald Trump has become something of a national pastime this summer, if not an international obsession. It’s a rare observer who doesn’t have a theory or two, but they usually have something to do with economics or reactionary social trends. If science and technology come up they’re likely to come off as virtuous pursuits to be kept above the political fray.
Enter Daniel Sarewitz, who recently reminded Nature readers that the long tradition of treating science as “an unalloyed good from which all citizens … benefit” is actually quite controversial. He offers the 1950 legislation that established the National Science Foundation—and “gave scientists primary responsibility for determining the agency’s research agenda”—as an example of “elite academic science and the economic marketplace” beating out “government investment [that] would focus research and development directly on social goals and economic growth.”
Whether a President Trump would care much about either is debatable, but it’s hard not to see how his campaign has resonated “in regions of the country that have not only failed to benefit economically from innovation, but have been harmed by it.”
Sarewitz, the co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, thinks this should be “a call to arms” for those who believe in “a system of socially responsible and responsive science.”