Science, Stopped at the Border: Jen Golbeck on Science in Trump’s America

February 06, 2017

The Trump administration’s orders to halt federal science publication and public communication has American scientists racing against the clock to back up their data in fear of it being eradicated. Meanwhile, the scientists who come to America from all over the world face new roadblocks, as the travel ban from select Muslim-majority nations is reeking havoc on scientists who are not only kept from visiting loved ones, but are unable to leave the country for academic work in fear of being barred from reentry.

In this eye opening discussion, Point of Inquiry host Josh Zepps talks to Jen Golbeck, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland College Park. She speaks with first-hand experience about the blow American science is taking from the travel ban — not only in its immediate effects, but the long-term consequences these policies will undoubtedly have in putting America behind the rest of the world.

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry. The nonprofit that is more vital than ever at spreading secularism and science and reason in these United States and around the world in these challenging times. I’m Josh Zepps. This will be my last month with point of inquiry after something of a hiatus over the New Year. I’ve loved doing it for more than three years and there will still will be more episodes to come. So you’re not done with me just yet. But do be sure to follow me at Josh Zepps and to subscribe to my other podcast. We the people live. If you want any more of my content henceforth, today’s episode is very interesting, very timely. Jen Goldbeck is a scientist and a professor at the University of Maryland who was deeply involved in helping scientists and academics through the enormous stresses and strains of the past two weeks of the Trump administration, specifically the past week and a bit, I suppose, after Trump signed the immigration order. There was chaos at the nation’s airports. Of course, we all saw images of not just protests, but of people who had been detained for some time, people who’d been about to get on planes, who were coming to study in the United States, scientists who were suddenly stranded either mid-flight or at airports in the US and all over the world. And Jen was at the coalface of that. 

And she shares with me her thoughts about Trump, her thoughts about the state of science, her thoughts about the fate of science. All right. Let’s let’s get into it. Jim, thanks so much for your time. I’m glad to be here. Can you take us back to the the early days of the Trump’s executive order and when you first read about it and what it meant? 

Yet there’s so much this happened, it feels like it’s been months. I think it’s maybe been a week at this point. You know, so he was inaugurated and that weekend passed without too much going on. But early that week before the executive order, we already, as the scientific community had started getting super stressed out because all of these orders started coming out saying that scientists in the government weren’t going to be allowed to share their data. They were stopped from tweeting and posting on social media. There’s one order that I think is still in place that says from the Environmental Protection Agency they need political approval before they publish scientific papers, which is crazy. So we were really on edge. And then two days after all that happened came the immigration order. And obviously, I mean, there’s a whole humanitarian side of that that’s most important and terrible. But like, I can’t speak to that more than any other horrified citizen, I guess. 

What was your what was your responsibility at the time? Was there any. In what capacity did the did the prevention or permission of scientists coming into America impact you so directly at the University of Maryland? 

We have about 300 faculty and students who are affected by the order, including students in the computer science department where I work. 

Fortunately, I guess my personal page student group is not affected, but we’re really seeing it immediately. And I have to add personally, my husband is a German citizen. 

He’s been in the U.S. for a long time, over 30 years at this point is in the middle of his citizenship process, has been dragging out for two years. But he still has a German passport with a green card. And so now I can’t travel with him to all these international things because we don’t want him leaving the country, you know, without a citizenship and a U.S. passport, to be fair. 

That is just your concern that nothing in the executive order would prevent a German national from leaving the U.S. and coming back. And if I have a green card. 

Yeah. That’s right. 

It’s all I mean, this is my concern as well, because I’m currently outside of the U.S. I have a green card, but I don’t know. Obviously, I have I have an Australian passport. I have a French passport. 

But there’s I think what you’re pointing at is it’s just the sheer uncertainty that has led to so much stress for so many people, because when the order was initially signed, it wasn’t at all clear whether or not it would even apply to two green card holders or whether it would only apply to people who were coming in on it, on a visa and so on and so forth. 

So you get the order and then you start worrying about your husband and you start worrying about what these hundreds of people who were supposed to come and contribute academically to the United States who are suddenly not going to be able to. 

Yeah, in a lot of ways. Right. Certainly there were people coming in who were in the process of moving here for jobs. But as you certainly know, in the academic community, we travel all the time. We go to international conferences several times a year. It’s the way we communicate with each other and share our work. And so there certainly were a lot of academics who are based in the US who are out of the country likely affected by this. And we certainly saw them popping up on Twitter and Facebook. And so, you know, there were a few just kind of immediate emergency worries, right? I mean, I always have that fear for myself. Like, what happens if I get detained, you know, in some foreign country? My dogs are home waiting for me. My car is at the airport. And there were people saying, like, wow, like I meant to be gone for a week to visit my family in Tehran. And now I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to come back. And there are those practical worries. 

And so I kind of spun up this network on Twitter over the last week of people to kind of help American scientists who might get fired, help scientists outside the U.S. find jobs outside the US. 

I had a thousand people from all over the world. Every continent except Antarctica offer up rooms and lab space and offices. Tons of Australians, by the way, offering to. 


Yeah. Which was, you know, heartening and amazing. But also it also really sad that we had to do that. And then also people in the US, both academics and just supporters of the science community, offering to help with these, you know, little things like watering plants and picking up dogs. And that kind of thing. Fortunately, we haven’t had too many requests from people stuck outside the US for our help because, of course, they have their own networks in their universities who can probably help them. But we are, for example, working with one PTSD student from Iran who is getting his chemistry HD at the University of Florida who now can’t come back. And he’s just kind of given up and said, all right, like I need to find a new place to do my program because who knows? Right. There’s all this uncertainty about if he’ll be allowed back in and when. So we’ve actually been connecting him with universities in the UK and. Canada to try to find him a new program to go to. 

So he was on an Iranian passport. He got he got a U.S. student visa. 

He was he came to the states and was studying. Went back to Iran. And all of a sudden can’t get back in on his student visa. Is that am I getting that right? 

I actually went to the U.K. for an academic event and got stuck there. Yeah. Not getting the visa to come back in. So, you know, he had a place to stay and he’s fine in, like, the immediate time, but he’s happy with his PTSD and suddenly can’t come back and finish it. Which is, I think, every student’s nightmare. 

This is why I mean, this is why the band struck me as or the immigration order rather struck me as such a such a kind of f you to everybody. Because if you were sitting down and trying to think through, all right, how do we make. How do we tighten immigration rules to be as safe as possible? Then you would start to think to yourself, okay, what about these hypotheticals? What if there’s just an Iranian student who is on a student visa who had already got an apartment here? He’s been here. He’s halfway through his P.H. D and you know, he just goes to a quick conference in the U.K. Does that does the mere happenstance of his housing, of his happening to be outside of the country when this order passes mean that he is more of a threat than if he’d just gone on vacation to Florida instead of actually exiting the United States? That doesn’t make a lot of sense because he was already here and we’d already issued his visa. 

Like, what did you make at the time of the fact that there was so much I don’t know what seems in hindsight like needless chaos and mayhem and callousness about the way that it was implemented, whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the overall policy. 

Yeah, I mean, I think callousness is exactly the word, right? Like, there were people literally in flight, you know, from, say, Syria to the US when it was signed and then they were sent back. And I think it speaks to, you know, kind of the lie of the line that we’re being fed. Right. This is about security. We need to vet these people further. You know, if that were the case, you would actually come up with what that process is and implement that process and talk to the heads of the State Department and talk to people in the Pentagon about what the problem is and how are you going to address it instead of kind of arbitrarily picking Middle Eastern countries that happen to not have any Trump businesses in them and immediately blocking people. 

I mean, just push from there. Let me just quick flashback on that on that, Jim, because I hear that quite a lot. 

And I do want to be as fair minded as possible that those seven countries were selected by the Obama administration in 2015. For those, remember the reforms of the visa waiver program where it was going to become impossible for any foreigner who had visited those seven countries to to be to participate in the visa waiver program. So they had already been singled out pre Trump as as countries for concern. So when I see that on Facebook, I always wanted to be as rational in our opposition to Trump as possible. So I always note that, of course, luxury hotels don’t exist in countries that are either chaotic shitholes or. And take us to the United States where there are embargoes and so on. So I will just I will put up a tiny little little flag of reason there and say that there may be reasons. There are certainly reasons why those seven countries where we’re already in the in the in the danger zone for being targets of future immigration restrictions. 

But with that caveat being noted, I take your larger point and please finish it. 

Yeah, I mean, I think that’s fair. Right. But there’s a lot of other argument to be made if you’re looking at the Trump position on this, that maybe there should be other countries on that list, too. Right. And in any case. Aside from, say, new refugees coming in. 

The fact that kind of in the middle of it being implemented, they said, oh yeah, it applies to green card holders too. Like that really is the most shocking and callous part of it to me, that they’re permanent residents of this country. Right. Who’ve lived here for decades, who are basically promised that this is their home. And if they happen to be abroad, suddenly, maybe they can be turned away, essentially deporting people who aren’t supposed to really be deportable. I mean, just the chaos of it and really the very callous response that we saw from the administration and ongoing. Right. Not allowing lawyers in to see people kind of violating the court orders. They’re really doing this in a hardcore way. That doesn’t seem to take into account the humanity of the people who are suffering at the other end of it. 

It certainly changed my impression of being a green card holder. I got to say, because I have always when people say, am I going to eventually get a U.S. passport? I’ve always shrugged and said, why don’t I? Why you would green card holders have all the same rights as citizens? Except then I get to vote, basically. I mean, you’re a parent. You’re a legal permanent resident. You really have to do something atrocious. 

You’re gonna kill somebody, too. And even then, you you usually don’t get your green card revoked. But seeing this, I just thought it’s so arbitrary. I don’t know if people realize how hard it is to get a green card. I mean, yeah, you can occasionally get really, really lucky and come in through one of those things like, you know, the diversity scheme or something with it. Wait. It’s basically a green card lottery with a handout, just a tiny handful to a few countries like Australia, which don’t have high immigration to the US. But I was here for almost 10 years on visas before I was able to plausibly apply for a green card. It means you’ve put in the hard yards. I was amazed that that was that was part of it anyway. So were you embroiled in in any of the crisis with people literally being in flight or at airports or needing legal assistance? Just as they were about to to go to the airport. 

So I didn’t have to get too involved in that, thankfully, other than, you know, going to the airport and holding a sign. 

You know, we network out there. I did, yeah. Where did you go? Alice went to Dallas. In Dallas. Yeah. 

What was it like for people who for the few people who don’t know where Dallas is? It’s in it’s in the D.C.. It’s. 

Yeah. The big international airport in D.C. Lots of singing and chanting. But, you know, everybody I talked to about this in, you know, my circle, which is profoundly anti Trump, everyone seems to kind of be in shock. Right. Every day we wake up and we go like this new horror happened and we can’t believe it. And and that was really one where we felt like we’d already had a few. And then this happened. And I think there was this profound sense of disbelief. And it really solidified a feeling that, you know, I had been having since the election, which was like I grew up here, very patriotic. I’ve done a lot of work for the government in one way or another. And I thought we stood for one thing. And it turns out there’s this whole part of the country that’s much bigger than I thought. The things we stand for, something totally different. And that suddenly became real and life changing with this executive order like you saw that side of the country. 

Put something in place that made it very real. 

And even though we kind of felt it coming. That was us just going like, wow, I cannot believe this is happening. And you feel kind of helpless, right? I kind of envy the lawyers who know bought tickets they weren’t going to use and got in there and started doing stuff because they could at least try to do something. It’s you know, it’s so chaotic and uncertain that it’s hard to take any action at this point other than calling members of Congress because you don’t know what to do. 

Yeah. And it’s one of those situations where even when the lawyers got in and they were waiving judgments in the face of the Customs and Border Patrol people, that still had no effect. And then the Border Patrol employees just defied the law. Because what I mean, it’s one of those kerfuffles where because there’s so much grayness, nobody knows who’s right in the moment, apart from the lawyers. I guess they know. They know who’s right. They know the law. But you know what I mean. It’s like all of this stuff has to be litigated at a later date. But when is that a later date and with whom do do we seek justice when the whole thing is gas and in cycle? 

That’s right. I mean, it was shocking to me that they were bringing these court orders in from a judge and just being told, no, I’m like, now what do we do? Like, I’ve never heard of this happening before. Like. Who do you call to enforce the judge’s order, like this whole new territory? We haven’t had to deal with this. Right. 

Do I call Justice John Roberts on my cell phone to try to get him to convince this person that the judiciary is a thing? Yeah. Let’s talk more broadly about the feelings about the new administration and its impact on on science and freedom of of of thought. The Republican Party has been dabbling in anti science for decades with respect to climate science in particular. And some would respect would would argue with respect to biology and women’s rights. 

This Trump came along sort of as an oddity and some people were a little, well, somewhat hopeful that he might represent as a small silver lining, a Republican who was less ideologically anti science than the the the religious establishment. Did you have that hope? 

You know, so he he did not come off to me as a guy particularly committed to reason. Right. Like, he was part of the whole birther thing. He’s kind of a conspiracy theorist in his way, which you can see on Twitter well before the election. 

But I was sort of hopeful that a lot of the stuff he was spouting, especially about like reproductive rights and abortion, that he didn’t really believe. Right. Like, he strikes me as a guy that if you’d talked to me five years ago, I would have gone like, yeah, I would think he’s an abortion, you know, pro-choice at least. 

And so I could see him spouting this line to appeal to a particular kind of voter. 

But I was hopeful that he’d get into office and just like, not care that much about it. And, you know, have his own little pet projects and kind of leave the scientists alone and leave the really contentious religious stuff alone. 

And and I’ve kind of been proved wrong on all that. And I don’t quite understand why, you know, like I understand him trying to shut down the Park Service Twitter account because it tweeted that his inauguration crowd was smaller. Like, that’s a very Trump thing. Right. 

But all of the other stuff that he’s been doing, like really trying to silence the government scientists, you know, really pushing like this religious freedom bill. I could totally see that from Mike Pence. But I’m surprised that Trump is really acting like this is something he cares about, because I I consider it more bluster than true in the election. 

When you say you could imagine seeing something like that from Mike Pence, you may, in fact, be seeing something like that from Mike Pence. I mean, that might be part of the internal dialog, right? I mean, he might be shoring up favors within his administration. 

And so one thing one thing that he knows is very important to his most important direct subordinate. The vice president is a bill like this. So that I kind of interpret his his. 

Positions as necessarily being that of the of the great negotiator that he perceives himself to be and and doling out favors where he thinks that they’re going to be necessary to call in in the future. 

I wonder what you also think about how his attitude towards truth and falsehood and fake news plays into this? Because when you talk about undermining the ability of bureaucracies, for example, to produce accurate data. I think part of what motivates the ultraright and the movement from which from which which Trump feels culturally most comfortable is a disdain for data and one. Corri. Right. I mean, like that you should be following your gut more. 

That’s that’s exactly right. And I think that’s why he appealed to a lot of people. Right. He came off as sort of this average guy who doesn’t need these experts telling him all these things. He knows what he feels. And, you know, we saw that in the same kind of movement in the. Right. With Brexit. I think the UK has had enough of experts for now. Right. And, you know, soon interesting facts that maybe could have made me see the future more clearly is in the middle of the fall. Well, before the election, when we didn’t think Trump had any chance of winning. I saw a study. I think that came out from Pew that said 25 percent of Americans don’t believe government figures for things like employment and kind of economic data. And that shocked me. Like I figured that there was a handful of people who thought the government was making that up to make themselves look good. But I had no idea that it was that huge. There was a quarter of Americans didn’t trust this data. And I think those Americans love Trump. Right, because he says, look, this is this is what it seems like. This is what it feels like. This is what it is. And they don’t need all this data and they don’t want scientists telling them that what they think or what they want to do is wrong. 

And they don’t want to want to be forced to decide between what’s true and what’s not. 

This is what’s worrying me the most about the trend towards calling everything fake news. It’s not that I fear that people will believe the lies. It’s not that I fear that that a climate scientist will say X and the climate change denier will say why? And people will believe why. It’s this muddying of the waters. It’s it’s this it’s the erosion of the very idea that there is reliable falsehood and reliable truth. And it strikes me that this administration is committed to that kind of muddying. 

I think that’s exactly right. And it’s a common tactic used that you can see if you study other totalitarian regimes is to just make people really tired and say, I don’t trust anybody anymore. Right. It’s not that they care so much about being believed. It’s not that Trump wants us to believe that he had the biggest inauguration crowd ever or whatever. All kinds of things that that he spouts. I mean, there’s so many, right. We can’t list all the fake things that he said. A part of it is really a tactic to get everyone going. Of course, that’s false. Right. Of course, we can’t trust what they’re saying. But then we also can’t trust what CNN is saying or NBC is saying or NPR saying. 

Right. We can’t trust anybody. And that opens up a space where you suddenly don’t have, like, an objective reality to work from. 

Everything is suspect and especially as a scientist. That’s worrying since the whole point of what we do is to find objective truth. 

Yeah. On my own personal podcast, we the People Live. I was talking recently to and to a Russian dissident journalist in Moscow, and he said a line which you just reminded me of, which is you said, for Putin, the facts are for pussies. 

So you’re in the business of communicating facts. End of discussion, uncovering facts and of popularizing facts. 

I’ve struggled for quite some time as a science communicator in the media to figure out how to communicate climate science in a way that is interesting and compelling and permits for the uncertainties that climate modeling entails. Without getting into a he said she said over details. 

Do you have any insights about that, about climate change in about Figley, about how to communicate, to light to nonscientists? 

Not specifically about climate change. The the how to make science sexy and believable without getting bogged down into details. 

Yeah. So if we set aside kind of the conspiracy theorists. Right. Like the people who want to not believe the facts. That’s a whole other problem. We just talk about people who don’t know. Right. That would be happy to learn. Yeah. 

You know, the thing that I have found that works well is to find the right kinds of anecdotes. 

And the ones that work for me are stories where you tell them and people don’t understand on the first telling. Right. There’s some surprising thing like how could that possibly be true? And then you can have a clear way of explaining that one particular thing in the story that you told. That makes sense in a way that the person can then take that story and go to a dinner party or tell someone at work over lunch and sound really smart. So I tell one. And I’m sure you and your listeners have heard this about Target being able to analyze a 15 year old girl’s purchase history and discover that she was pregnant before she told her parents. Yeah, it is a great story. There is a New York Times article, so I use that in all my talks. And I just start off with this story of her dad calling the target getting all mad. And that kind of builds to this punch line of him apologizing and saying Target found out before she told us that she was pregnant and everybody gasps and they don’t understand why. Right. They’re just surprised by the story. And then if you follow that up with here’s an explanation of like the really basic science that lets that happen. People get it right. You build this intuitive understanding for them. And I think that’s the thing. Right. Like real science, if you’re doing it as a scientist, is deeply complicated and confusing and tricky. And there’s a lot of fuzziness. But you want to have that intuition of why it works and whether I’m teaching students in class or I’m talking to the public like that’s what I want. I want them to have the gist of it. And if they can get that and go tell somebody a really good story that uses that, just it tends to get them there. Right. They feel like then they really understand something. 

I guess I’m still waiting for that story when it comes to climate science. There must be scientists who have perplexing conundrums that are fascinating, like an Agatha Christie novel that we’re only explicable once they understood something about climate science. But I’m not well versed enough in it to know what that is. Are you. Do you have any are you on the hunt for them? 

I am definitely on the hunt. I kind of collect these anecdotes because there is I mean, one, it makes dinner parties a lot easier if you just have a bunch of photo. Right. I’m an introvert, so I’m always looking for those. I collect those stories, but it is hard for something like climate change because it’s so slow and gradual. Right. On one hand, it’s fast in geologic time, but it’s not like you have this story of like, oh, there was this island and everybody went there and then, you know, ocean temperatures went up a degree and the island was gone like that. Like one that doesn’t happen in two. It doesn’t have that great negative. Like, oh, I have this insight now. Right. So I am also still on the hunt for that. 

With climate change and I think we’ll need a bunch of good ones. It’s a hard thing for scientists to do, right? I feel like I worked really hard on cultivating this ability to talk to the general public about science. It’s not something you get trained on as a scientist. And, you know, it’s the rare scientists to takes that time and can kind of do two jobs. 

Yeah. Well, I mean, to be fair, it shouldn’t be so. It should the onus shouldn’t be on scientists. Journalists should be better at it. It’s mine. It’s my side of it’s my team who are letting the letting the side down here. The media just does a terrible, terrible job of communicating science because, as you say, not only are scientists not trained in communicating, communicators aren’t trained in science. Majority of journalists don’t understand science. That’s a that’s a big problem. 

Let’s look forward. 

Let’s think about just scientific thinking and also scientific funding and academia in the United States under the the Trump administration. 

Are there any big sort of concerns that if you step back from the mayhem of these initial weeks and take a deep breath, you would want to focus on so that we’re not just swatting flies all the time. 

There’s so many, like trying to maybe two categories, maybe three. Maybe I’ll be short on the first one short. Scientific funding. It’s really scary where that’s going to go. We have a great system of scientific funding in the US and from a bunch of different places. Right. We have the National Institutes of Health. They have billions of dollars that go to academic institutions. Department of Defense, since the National Science Foundation has a lot of money and we rely on that to be able to hire P.H. D students to do the research and learn new things and go on and become productive researchers. That’s what that money goes towards. It puts PGD through students through school. They don’t pay for themselves. And so I fear that a lot of that is going to go away. We’ve heard about some adjustments in the Environmental Protection Agency in terms of funding. But, you know, there could be a lot more of that under attack and we just don’t know. Some worried, but I have no facts to be too worried about yet. 

I thing number two is travel. And honestly, this may be the biggest one. Travel is so important it in a bunch of ways. 

I mean, the U.S. has been a leader in science and kind of academics generally not because like Americans are so smart, but because the brightest people in the world come here to work at our universities and our labs. And, you know, if you ever go into a university and go look at the faculty, there’s an awful lot of non Americans there. Sometimes the majority are not American. And that’s certainly true, especially in the sciences. And it makes us so much stronger because we get the best people from all over the world being here. And so now I don’t know that I would come here, not even if I were one from from one of those countries that are banned in the executive order, but from anywhere. Like I said, I’m really worried about my German husband with his green card. I would be very wary as even an EU citizen, to come here and take a job not knowing what’s going to happen, not knowing about freedom of movement. And then you look at all the people who are already scientists. 

And a big part of the way that we work in the academic community is going to these international conferences doing international collaborations. And so suddenly, if you are a scientist based here as a noncitizen, you’re very worried about going abroad. And if you’re from abroad, you’re really worried about coming here. So I think the executive order itself, even if it doesn’t expand, is going to have a really chilling effect on the international characteristics of science in the US, which makes us so strong. And it could really lead to a dramatic shift of scientific power out of the US. And I think, frankly, to the EU, they’ve been doing amazing things, increasing their science funding. And I could see a lot of the world’s great scientists deciding that that’s a better place to go. So that really worries me. And it’s a big long term thing that we’re going to see start manifesting over the next year or so. And then I guess the third issue, which is smaller in scope, is that the administration shows that it wants to censor science content, at least coming out of the government. I don’t know that they would be able to reach into universities and do that, but they certainly can do it for government scientists who are studying geology. We have the USGS studying climate change, studying the environment. They’re going to try to censor and adjust that work. And that is so anti science. I think that that can potentially have a big impact, too. But again, it’s one of these things where we have to wait and see what they finally do. 

Yeah, I think a lot of a lot of lay people don’t realize just how important a lot of the data that comes out of U.S. government bureaucracies is. I mean, you know, in order to understand. Happening to the climate sort of banging on about climate. But I think that’s kind of a big looming issue over all of our heads. You need to know you need to have information. You need to have unbiased information from hardworking bureaucrats and scientists who are compiling it. And if they get defunded, then that’s a major problem for everybody who can’t live in a world that you don’t understand. The second point you made there, Janet, just want to add to and get your thoughts about, because I think you made a really useful distinction, which is even if you’re not directly affected by the immigration order because you’re not from one of those seven countries, you have never been to one of those seven countries. The there’s a second order problem here, which is of people fearing uncertainty about, you know, if they’re foreigners, just as you say, just your husband, who’s a German, for example, fearing the uncertain status of coming to the United States to study or to do academic work. And I would add to that a third tier problem, which is even if you have no concern that you’re going to be removed from the United States because knocking on lots of wood, I think, for example, an Australian is very unlikely to be caught in when one of these immigration orders, the image that it gives foreigners of the United States about the extent to which the U.S. is a welcoming country worthy of spending time in is something that only just occurred to me as I was listening to your talk. Like the ripples, the ramifications of having this kind of attitude towards the world is arguably going to be more deleterious if the U.S. being able to attract the best minds than any specific policy. 

I think that’s exactly right. And and that message was sort of brought home to me more clearly today. The New Yorker put their cover out for the next issue. And it’s just the torch of the Statue of Liberty blown out with a little smoke contrail coming up from it. And it was such a powerful image because it feels exactly like that’s what happened. Right. 

We’re supposed to be this beacon for anyone in the world to be able to come here and build a great life and be free and had we’re not really being that way at all over the last couple weeks. And yeah, I mean, if I were an international scientist and I look at here’s what’s going on in the U.S. right now and here’s what’s going on in the EU or Canada, where am I going to feel more welcome? Like it’s not here. Right. And if I’m moving my family somewhere, even if I were willing to go and risk it, if I’m going to you know, you move here and you settle here or wherever you go. Right. It’s not like you’re going for a year. You’re gonna go live at those place that you’re working. Are you going to bring your family, you know, even if you’re going to North America, the U.S. or Canada, if you can put up with the cold? Canada is a lot more welcoming. 

Yeah. And I think that’s true even if you’re a New Zealander or a Brazilian or a Swiss person now. 

Yeah. That has nothing to do with with those countries. Yeah. Just at the beginning of this interview, you you said that you are one of the things that was shocking about the immigration order was that it reminded you that there was a portion of the country or alerted you to the fact that there was a portion of the country that was much larger than you thought it was that had a completely different vision of what America is from your one. Do you have a sense of how optimistic or pessimistic you are about being able to regain that vision or unite those visions in some way that makes sense moving forward? 

I have been really dramatically back and forth on this after the election. I think I didn’t sleep for like three or four nights. I’d like finally fall asleep and sleep for an hour and wake up. I mean, it’s had a profound emotional impact on me as someone who grew up loving this country and everything I thought it stood for. And I was pretty despondent from November through the inauguration that I just felt like I’m living in some newly discovered, you know, third world country with some desperate in charge and nobody cares. I went to the women’s march the day after the inauguration, which made me feel a lot better. Right. Cause there were all these voices coming together saying this is not OK, which is what I felt like. I was yelling out into the darkness. And I felt much more optimistic after that. 

And I kind of swing back and forth like I see this amazing mobilization of the America that I thought was most of us. 

Right. The accepting, welcoming, diverse, freedom loving part of America. You know, I think they I saw a statistic today that said Congress has received like twice as many calls in the last couple days as they ever had before on any day. People are are becoming activists who never had been before, including me. I was pretty unpolitical before. 

And so that’s encouraging. At the same time, there’s so much power in the hands of this administration and the Congress, led by the Republicans, who I kind of hoped would stand up to some of it isn’t. And they’re rolling out their own atrocities like this now scuttled plan to sell off big portions of the national parks. And so, yeah, I kind of go back and forth between like we’re powerful and we have a voice and we can stop this bad stuff from happening to an awful lot of bad stuff is going to happen that we don’t seem to have any power over. So I think that there’s a movement there that maybe can do something about it. But I feel like we’re just so early in everything Trump is going to try to do that we haven’t really formed and made a coherent movement that has platforms and goals and a strategy. 

We’re hopefully going to get there. But yeah, it depends on minute to minute how optimistic I am. 

I am probably on the saids. 

Yanukovych is a professor at the University of Maryland. You can follow him at Jim Gulbis. Jim, thanks so much for being on point of inquiry. Thanks. 

End of inquiries of production at the Center for Inquiry. Become a member and support the advancement of science and reason by going to center for inquiry. Dot org slash membership. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.