America Is So Done With Science, For Reals

Makes sense, really.

Time for another fun Trump Administration Science Roundup! Since it's about the Trump administration and science, it will of necessity be brief. For starters, there's this shocker: The science division of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) now has zero (0) staff, which is down from nine full-time staffers during the Obama administration. The last three holdovers from the Obama years left their jobs Friday and locked up the office, which will now presumably be used to store coal. Here's now-former assistant director for biomedical and forensic sciences Eleanor Celeste's farewell tweet:

But don't feel too bad! The White House isn't worried at all, because a "White House official" explained to CBS News that there's still plenty of science in the other divisions of the OSTP, at least all the Trump White House needs:

"All of the work that we have been doing is still being done" [...]

"Under the previous administration, OSTP had grown exponentially over what it had been before," the official said. "Before the Obama administration, it had usually held 50 to 60 or so policy experts, director-level people, for all of OSTP."

The Obama administration staffed the OSTP with more than 100 employees.

The Trumpers have kept on some 35 staff for the OSTP, so that's a much more appropriate number, because it just is. Those Obama people were positively lousy with science, even though real Americans don't like science so much. Besides, even though the science division is currently uncontaminated by any science, there are still other divisions of the OSTP, like the National Security & International Affairs Division, the Technology & Innovation Division, and the Environment & Energy Division (soon to be renamed the Drill Baby Drill Division, we guess). Who needs a "Science Division" in the White House, anyway? Frankly, it sounds pretty divisive.

And now the White House is pushing back, insisting that the science division does so have people working there; deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Huffington Post that the CBS report was a filthy dirty lie by filthy dirty liars who hate America:

“This is not true,” Sanders said in an email. “Sadly, someone was more concerned about attacking [President Donald Trump] than getting their story straight.”

Have we ever had reason to doubt anyone in the White House press office? We have not, not ever, except from Day 1 forward. Be on the lookout for a video of some guy with the CBS logo over his head being pushed out an airlock into deep space. Another White House official familiar with the OSTP told HuffPo that the science division actually has 12 staffers, out of a total of 35 people in the OSTP. Huh. same total as the other report, but suddenly the science division has a third of OSTP's staff? That sounds very probable, particularly coming from an administration what doesn't merely deny climate science, but also has serious problems with basic math, like "which picture of a crowd is bigger?" and "how can you pretend your budget adds up when it has a $2 trillion math error?"

Afghanistan FIRST Global team. (Image via FIRST Global)

In other America Science News, the State Department has denied visas to a team of six teenage robot-building girls from Herat, Afghanistan, whose robot was accepted into the FIRST Global Challenge, to be held in Washington DC later this month. The contest organizers send a kit of some standard components to all the competitors, but what they do with them to accomplish the robot's task (in this case, sorting balls) is up to the teams, which have to design, program, and build their own robots. The girls were already hit with one setback -- the package of parts from FIRST was held up forever in Customs because any technology going into Afghanistan is obviously going to be used for IEDs. While waiting for the package to arrive, the girls built some concept robots using household materials and pure grit; once the official parts arrived, they had three weeks to make their official contest entry.

The girls had to travel 500 miles from Herat to Kabul to the U.S. embassy for in-person interviews as part of the process of applying for visas. In fact, they made the trip a second time after being rejected the first time around.

Their sponsor, Roya Mahboob, who founded a software company and became Afghanistan's first female technology CEO, said the team's acceptance into the tournament was a Big Deal for women in tech in her country:

“It's a very important message for our people,” Mahboob says. “Robotics is very, very new in Afghanistan.”

She says when the girls first heard the bad news about their visas, “they were crying all the day.”

Forbes points out that the type of visa the girls sought, for business travel, is "pretty tricky" to get in the first place, with only 32 of them granted in Afghanistan in April 2017, compared to 138 approved in Baghdad for the same month. The State Department doesn't comment on why particular applications are denied, because applications are confidential. So maybe this is just a routine bummer rather than a targeted bummer.

Still, at least the robot gets to go to Washington to compete, and the girls will watch on video. Former congressman Joe Sestak, president of FIRST Global, called the girls "extraordinarily brave young women" and said he was disappointed they wouldn't make it to DC for the competition. Other teams of teens from the Middle East, including teams from Iraq, Iran and Sudan, were able to get visas, but one other team, from Gambia, was also denied. Extreme Vetting works in mysterious ways, but don't you feel a lot safer?

Finally, Donald Trump did do one thing that's kind of sciencey, or at least Big Tech-y; Friday, he signed an executive order re-establishing the National Space Council, which was disbanded in 1993 after bureaucratic infighting; the new version of the council will coordinate White House policy with NASA and the growing commercial space launch industry. It's worth noting, however, that Trump has not yet named a new NASA administrator, and his science budget will continue the Republican effort to prevent NASA from doing Earth science, because global warming is a hoax invented by China to put us at a disadvantage. Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin was at the ceremony, and didn't seem too impressed with Trump, all in all.

Aldrin, for his part, has been pushing for a NASA mission to Mars, although we were sad to see that he also seems to be something of a climate change denier -- or at least he was in 2011. (He has a doctorate in aeronautics, not climate science.) Couldn't he just stick to punching people who say he never walked on the moon?

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[CBS News / HuffPo / WaPo / Forbes / Spaceflight Now]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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