For the first time in 175 years, Scientific American has endorsed a presidential candidate. This is why we did it

Josh Fischman
·4-min read
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (AP)
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (AP)

For nearly two centuries, Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States, did not support any candidate for US president. This Tuesday that changed, when we endorsed Joe Biden over Donald Trump.

Why? We are not a partisan publication. We do not favor Republicans or Democrats because of their party affiliations. We did this because the editors of the magazine believe that policies should be based on good evidence, and that for the big issues facing the country and planet today, science provides that evidence.

Donald Trump has repeatedly ignored evidence and science, and because of this he has severely damaged the US and its people. His inept response to the Covid-19 pandemic is the most agonizing example, and 190,000 people have died in the country as of mid-September. But it is far from the only instance. His contempt for fact-based policies includes repeated attempts to weaken healthcare, attempts to remove environmental protections, and refusals to cope with climate change. The results cost lives, and have placed the US in tremendous peril. Biden’s record and his campaign policies, in contrast, show he has the best chance to reverse this devastating direction. He offers ideas based on sound science to protect health and stimulate the economy.

We’ve weighed in on national politics and policies before, arguing against aggressive nuclear weapons postures and in favor of air pollution safety regulations, and always because the science pointed the way. The decision to support Biden over Trump is very much in line with that thinking.

Over the past four years, it has become quite clear that the Trump administration has ignored scientific evidence for most of its decisions, and has actively tried to suppress it. Political appointees recently admitted, for instance, that they have tried to change and delay medical reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, simply because those reports did not align with false ideas that Trump wanted to promote. His administration has removed references to climate change from government scientific reports, and replaced reputable researchers on scientific agency advisory boards with industry representatives. This week in California, looking at the disaster of wildfires raging through forests dried by a changing climate, Trump falsely claimed that scientists did not know that climate played a major role. They do, in fact.

The current pandemic plight in the US is in large part due to Trump’s rejection of science and his dishonesty about it. Early on, the consensus research advice was to deploy widespread virus testing but Trump never did it. Medical workers should have had protective equipment but the administration did not help them get it. He flouted rules about wearing masks. The research showed that premature reopenings of activities would lead to a resurgence of cases, but Trump pushed for that anyway. And the resurgence happened, and led to re-closings of businesses and further crippling of the economy. He lied about the deadly nature of the virus to the public, even as he acknowledged it in private. This encouraged people to engage in risky behavior, therefore spreading the virus further, and has driven wedges between Americans who take the threat seriously and those who believe Trump’s falsehoods.

So the awful consequences of these rejections of evidence and data made it clear to us that science was on the ballot this November in a way that it has never been before. And Biden’s candidacy presented us — and gives the country — a positive choice. He comes prepared with evidence-based plans to control Covid-19, revitalize healthcare, reduce carbon emissions and restore the role of legitimate science in policymaking. His plans include a national testing board, a body with the power to command public and private resources to supply more tests and get them to all communities. Biden also wants to take thousands of people, many of whom have been forced out of work by pandemic closings, and employ them as contact tracers and in other public health positions. And he plans a $2 trillion investment in low carbon emission technologies, a push that could result in two million jobs for US workers.

When the Scientific American editors considered these contrasting positions, and the catastrophic results of actions Trump has already taken, we all agreed that in this unprecedented time we had to take an unprecedented position and endorse a presidential candidate. That person is Biden, because he is guided by science at a time when science matters more than ever before.

Josh Fischman is a senior editor at Scientific American magazine, leading coverage of medicine, earth sciences, and science policy from Washington DC