Last week, the US Department of Education announced that it received a gift of $100,000 from the President himself – taken straight from his salary – that will be used to help fund a summer camp for students focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The aim is to encourage students from a range of backgrounds to take up STEM subjects later in life as careers. Although no details of how this money would be spent were given, it is initially quite difficult to argue that this isn’t – on the face of it – a nice gesture.
Context, however, is everything.
The President’s budgets – which so far have been continuously been shot down by Congress – have called for historic and draconian cuts to federal science and education funding. In terms of cutting-edge scientific research, China is already on track to outcompete America within the next two or three years, and Trump only wishes to speed this up.
His scientific agencies, most notably the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are also pursuing major job cutting initiatives. They bully, censor, demote and fire scientific advisors like it’s going out of fashion. Record numbers of scientists are literally fleeing the country to others that are welcoming them with open arms.
On top of everything, this administration is infamous for spouting anti-scientific rhetoric left, right and center. Trump and his acolytes are happy to shore up the views of prominent anti-vaxxers, actively undermine the public’s trust in the scientific method, and for the most part, can’t seem to do their sums correctly.
The monetary gift is fine by itself, but it’s a drop of water facing up against a tidal wave of contradictory behavior and action.
If we want to talk about supporting science, why not look at lawmakers like Representative Jacky Rosen, whose “Code Like A Girl” bill aims to get the National Science Foundation to fully fund two grants that will help get more girls into computer science? Why not look at all those members of Congress that voted Trump’s anti-science federal budget proposals down?
If we want to talk about donations into science from wealthy individuals, there are far better examples to focus on. Bill Gates may be an obvious choice, but his Foundation’s venture philanthropy is bordering on legendary: millions of people around the world are positively affected by his investments in STEM research.
In short, you can’t donate $100,000 to the advancement of science at the same time you demand cuts of billions across the board and expect people not to notice the irony.