Today, we learned that the EPA has had funding frozen and agency folks aren't supposed to talk about it. Rumors are that the USDA ARS is supposed to not disclose new information to the public until further notice. The National Park Service was censored on their twitter feed for posting photos suggesting that the inauguration was not very large. This, along with a number of other sweeping changes that one political party is driving to change funds allocated to the arts, humanities, and health suggest that we are indeed living in a new era.

Of course, I'm not happy about this. It does prompt reflection about what it means to be a scientist. We have had the luxury in recent decades (and beyond) of having a massive collection of scientists and agencies that work on both applied and basic research. So, the engineering necessary to get us to the moon, the work to understand how invasive species are impacting the Great Lakes - and questions about how diversity is distributed on the planet, right down to barnacle species and their evolutionary diversity. The latter is - until further notice - most certainly basic research, with a goal of knowledge for knowledge' sake. And yet it has had great benefits for our society. (Basic research, that is, though barnacle diversity has been used to identify the likely path of airplane wreckage, is involved in naval and shipping research, etc.)

It is worth exploring whether we are going to lose this luxury. Many solutions from basic science have gone on to transform health care, transportation, even quality of life. The point of these explorations is to learn about the world and how it works. This is, to put it benignly, not particularly appreciated by some political leaders. I fully suspect my own research, even that pertaining to diversity that may be sustaining our top predatory sea stars on the Pacific coast, would be mocked by our new president.

So how does one shift focus to find clear and direct application for biodiversity science? This is the challenge that many of us find our selves facing. I'm collaborating with one colleague on something I hope will be published soon that certainly is related to a health concern in the United States (more on that when it is out). I'm working on the sea star collapse caused by SSWD; arguably, the loss of predatory sea stars could dramatically change the diversity of our coasts and perhaps have impacts on shellfish productivity - we just don't know yet. My colleagues who work on ocean acidification and shifts in species ranges associated with climate change are on the fine line between basic and applied research, because if the funding agencies aren't allowed to care about climate change then the "application" goes away……

These are big, vague, questions. I don't have many answers. I had already begun to shift my focus towards more concrete questions of conservation and biodiversity loss in recent years, but even that is likely not going to be justified solely for the sake of biodiversity. I'm not arguing that we have to shift science to please our leaders; that would make it sound like some sort of authoritarian or fascist government, wouldn't it? But we do have to consider shifting science to make sure it makes some sense to our neighbors, our children, our friends and families. Government and policy changes or not, the climate impacts we are already seeing suggest that we are running out of the luxury to study things at leisure for interest alone.

So, what do you work on?