Over the past three years, it has been the practice of the Wells Reserve at Laudholm to publish a bit of make-believe each April Fool’s Day. We have posted hoax articles to draw attention to real issues like staff changes, invasive species, and the health of local rivers. Unfortunately, this year the truth-blurring antics of President Trump and his staff have convinced us that adding “fake news” to the local scene, even if only in jest, would be counter-productive and irresponsible.
For the sake of science this year, we’re not posting any jokes. Science isn’t in a laughing mood, because science in America is feeling threatened. In its first budget, the fledgling Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to our nation’s scientific research efforts. Unless Congress counters the Trump budget, public funding will be stripped from NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Continuing advances in health, energy, space, technology and the environment will be in jeopardy.
The public funding of science in America got us to the distant planets, cured diseases, ushered in the Digital Age, contributed to revolutions in agriculture and renewable energy, and protected clean water and air for hundreds of millions of people. The American people have benefitted greatly from the science in which they have invested their tax dollars. Why should we stop now? I hear the arguments for increasing defense spending, but what will be left to defend if we stop investing in our future here at home?
Cutting back on research is also foolish because, in this new era of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we need science. Science works to dispel myths and puncture falsehoods. Its slow, grinding process of data accumulation and analysis, coupled with peer review and the necessity of reproducibility, yield ever more refined understandings of how nature works. Scientists do not say “believe me” or “trust me” – those are the phrases of con artists and hucksters. Scientists say “here is my data, look what it says, what does yours say.” This is a persuasive and effective way to make progress. Over the past 400 years, science has regularly run up against the walls of dogma and ignorance, and for the most part, science has worn down those walls and made our lives better.
Science has also made Maine better, locally. The President’s proposed cuts to NOAA would eliminate the national estuarine research reserve system, of which the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, formally known as the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, is one. The research we conduct at the Wells Reserve on coastal ecology and biology contributes to the larger body of knowledge of our country will need in the years ahead, as our coasts change faster than ever. Two-thirds of the funding for the Wells Reserve’s research, education, and conservation work comes from the federal government. Without it, we would quickly fade away as a community resource and center for science and solutions on the coast of Southern Maine.
Therefore, because we are working on serious issues, and because we are busy asking friends and supporters to help us remain a place that can work on serious issues, the Wells Reserve will not be posting a science-themed April Fool’s satirical article in 2017.
…Which is a shame, because we’d cooked up a doozie of a joke this year. Of course, I can’t tell you what it is, but believe me, it was going to blow you away. Many people - important people, rich people – who I showed it to were very impressed by the joke. Everyone would have laughed and no one would have gotten hurt. It would have been the best April Fool’s hoax ever. Believe me.
Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His monthly column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and present, lies and truth. More at wellsreserve.org/twoworlds.