Trump Taps Science Skeptic to Oversee Scientific Integrity at USDA


Most human beings in a technologically advanced nation would expect the people in charge of specific agencies to have an extraordinarily high level of expertise related to the job they hold.  No-one in their right mind would expect an expert grave digger to be chosen to lead the Centers for Disease Control, or an avowed pacifist picked to run the Department of Defense, but these are strange times in America and “right minded” does not apply to anyone running the government.

In keeping with his practice of appointing people with no expertise whatsoever in the departments and agencies they intend to lead, Trump picked an avowed science skeptic, Sam Clovis, for the number two position at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the 2008 farm bill, the USDA undersecretary serves as the agency’s “chief scientist” and it specifies that any appointee to the post should be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” That 2008 farm bill also makes special note that the undersecretary is “responsible for the coordination of the scientific research, education, and extension activities of the Department.”

In past administrations, going back long before the 2008 farm bill’s specifications, the undersecretary post has been occupied by a “string of individuals with advanced degrees in science or medicine.” Obviously, Trump choosing a science skeptic to oversee and coordinate scientific research is his idea of what it takes to “make America great.”

Naturally, Trump taps a science skeptic who was an ultra right-wing teabagger talk show host and worked as an “advisor to Trump on all things Russia during the presidential campaign.” Sam Clovis, the science-skeptic is the Trump advisor who brought Carter Page into the Trump campaign after a typical Trump-approved vetting; a quick Google search. Page is just one of Trump’s cohorts under investigation by the FBI. But that’s another story unrelated to Clovis’ gross lack of qualifications to pick fruit, much less be undersecretary and “chief scientist” at the USDA responsible for ensuring there is “scientific integrity” at the agency.

The former USDA undersecretary, Catherine Woteki, an acclaimed nutrition scientist explained why the 2008 farm bill required a “distinguished scientist with specialized training” to fill the USDA undersecretary position. Ms. Woteki said:

There’s a huge amount of science that goes into the setting up of the programs, implementation of various policies, and the chief scientist role is to coordinate those policies across the entire department and to represent agricultural science in the decision making that goes on with other departments and is coordinated with the White House science office.”

Clovis should fit right in with Trump’s administration and especially with the Agriculture Department Secretary, Sonny Perdue, who labeled mainstream climate science “so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.” Not far from Perdue’s appraisal of climate science, Clovis just doesn’t accept climate science as “a thing” and considers himself to be “extremely skeptical.”

Clovis’ qualifications to be the USDA’s chief scientist and ensure scientific integrity at the agency is serving 25 years in the Air Force, teaching college economics for ten years, and running a right-wing talk show. He has “no background in any hard science or in agriculture” and has not “published any work in peer-reviewed scientific or agricultural journals.” But he did work for Trump’s campaign advising him on all things Russia, including the aforementioned recruiting Carter Page.

It is easy to imagine what Clovis will bring to the position when, not if, he is confirmed by the anti-science Republican Senate, but an informed voice, Jessica Huseman at ProPublica, provided a fair estimation of what Clovis will do as “chief scientist” at the USDA.

Ms. Huseman reported that last October when Clovis represented the Trump campaign at the Farm Foundation Forum he told E&E News that the Trump administration is not interested in the impact of climate change on American agriculture. Instead, they will be focusing all their energies on eliminating regulations and boosting trade. As an aside, the American agriculture industry is already suffering trade losses due to the Trump administration’s so-called trade expertise and no amount of deregulation will convince our foreign trading partners to engage with America again; especially with agricultural products.

Trump is bound and determined to put the least qualified human beings in charge of the most important federal agencies whether it was an anti-public school evangelical to run the Department of Education or an anti-environmental protection champion to run the Environmental Protection Agency or an anti-civil rights advocate to run the Department of Justice. Trump seeks out the least qualified people in America to lead important departments and it is just another sign that he has no kind of business acumen. No accomplished and successful business man would ever hire unqualified people to perform even menial tasks, much less to lead a department.

More than incompetence, Trump’s choice of Clovis, like Perdue, is another signal that this administration is Hell bent on attacking science reminiscent of the Dark Age Catholic Church. With Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling all three branches of government, these are the dark ages for America, and dark times for science and research.

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