ANDERSON –  Could the president’s ignorance of science be his undoing? It will be if Scientific American has anything to say about it. For the first time in its 175-year history, the magazine is taking sides in a presidential election.

“This year, we are compelled to do so,” the editors wrote. “We do not do this lightly.”

President Donald J. Trump, they argued, has badly damaged the nation and its people through his rejection of science. “The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, …” the editors wrote. “He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges.”

The magazine encouraged its readers to vote for Joe Biden, a candidate it said had offered “fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment.” “These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future,” the editors wrote. Examples of the president’s wrong-headed approach to science are legion.

Take his insistence that the United States will soon have a vaccine for COVID-19. “That’ll be from mid-October on,” he said. “It may be a little bit later than that, but we’ll be all set.”

When Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested it would actually be months before a vaccine would be readily available, the president said he thought Redfield might have misunderstood the question. Actually Redfield was pretty clear. In testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, he held up a mask and suggested wearing one might be far more effective than waiting for a vaccine.

“We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense,” he said. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” Still, when told of the president’s objections, the CDC director clarified his remarks, saying he fully believed in the importance of a vaccine. “A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life,” he said.

Nevertheless, he repeated the guidance public health experts have been offering for months. “The best defense we currently have against this virus,” he said, “are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.” That  is the same guidance our president just can’t bring himself to embrace. He rarely wears a mask himself, and he frequently pokes fun at Biden for doing so. 

The president’s dim view of science seemed perfectly illustrated in an exchange with Wade Crowfoot, secretary of California’s Natural Resources Agency, during a visit to survey damage from the wildfires raging up and down the West Coast. Crowfoot had suggested efforts to head off the fires wouldn’t succeed if they failed to acknowledge the role of climate change.

“OK, it’ll start getting cooler,” the president said. “I wish,” Crowfoot responded. “You just watch,” the president said. “I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot responded. “Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” the president said.

And there you have it. The president insists he knows more than the scientists, and the death toll keeps rising.