Hamdi Ulukaya

Llewellyn King: America needs to fight the Trump folly of fighting science.

-- Photo by  Zuzanna K. Filutowska

-- Photo by  Zuzanna K. Filutowska


The man who popularized Greek-style yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya, is probably one of the only, if not the only, billionaire of recent years who does not owe his fortune to the government. Jeff Bezos does, Bill Gates does, Mark Zuckerberg does, along with dozens of others who have amassed fortunes in the digital age.

They are smart men all who have exploited opportunities, which would not have existed but for the government’s presence in science. I applaud individuals who build on government discoveries to make their fortunes.

But government-backed science, which has brought us everything from GPS to the Internet, is in for a radical reversal, as laid out in the Trump administration’s budget proposal.

It was greeted with derision when it was released, with many hoping Congress will reverse it. However in the science community, in the halls of the National Science Foundation, in the facilities of the National Institutes of Health, and in the sprawling world of the Department of Energy’s national laboratories, there is fear and alarm.

There should be. There should be from the world of learning a great bellow of rage, too.

The Trump administration has declared essentially that the United States cannot afford to be wise, cannot afford to invent, cannot afford to cure or to minister and cannot afford to continue the rate of scientific evolution, which has made science of the post-World War II period so thrilling, benefiting countless people.

The administration has identified 62 programs for elimination or severe cutbacks. It has done this in a mixture of ignorance, indifference and delusion. The ignorance is that it does not seem to know how we got where we are; the indifference is part of a broad, anti-intellectual tilt on the political right; and the delusion is the hapless belief that science and engineering’s forward leap of 75 years will be carried on in the private sector.

The broad antipathy to science, to learning in all but the most general sense, is the mark of the Trump budget proposal.

But science, whether it is coming from ARPA-E, (Advanced Projects Research Research Agency-Energy) or the National Science Foundation’s watering of the tender shoots of invention, the Department of Energy’s world-leading contribution to the Human Genome Project, or the National Institutes of Health’s endless war against disease (especially the small and awful diseases like Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and the rarest cancers) is the future. Without it, the nation is gobbling its seed corn.

In the Trump administration, there is money to build a giant wall but no money to surge forward into the future.

To the administration, as indicated in its budget proposal, the sciences and the engineering which flows from them, is a luxury. It is not. It is the raw materials of peace and strength in this century and beyond.

To take just one of the follies implicit in the philistine budget, cutting funding for medical research will come just when there is need for more – research which if not funded by the government will not be done. New epidemics like bird flu, Zika and Ebola cry out for research.

Increasingly, the old paradigm that new drugs would come from the drug companies is broken. It now costs a drug company close to $2 billion to bring a new compound to market. That cost is reflected in new drug prices, as the companies struggle to recoup their investments before their drugs go off patent. Shareholder value does not encourage the taking of chances, but rather the buying up of the competition. And that is happening in the industry.

The world desperately needs a new generation of antibiotics. The drug companies are not developing them, and the bugs are mutating happily, developing resistance to the drugs that have held bacterial disease at bay since penicillin led the way 89 years ago.

Fighting the political folly that threatens science is the battle for America. In 50 years, without amply government-funded research and development, will we still be the incubator for invention, the shock troops against disease, the progenitors of a time of global abundance?

Our place in the world is not determined by our ideology, but by our invention. Sadly, the pace of invention is at stake, attacked by a particularly virulent and aberrant strain of governmental thinking.­­

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a frequent contributor to New England Diary.  His e-mail is llewellynking1@gmail.com. This first ran in Inside Sources.


Llewellyn King: America's great gale of 2016


If you accept that seminal means an event or moment after which things will never be the same again, then we are living through a seminal year.

In matters big and small, change is in the wind.

This wind has been blowing through presidential primary and caucus states and is defining the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not so much the leaders of this time of change, but rather the products.

The product is something hard to pin down, but it is there nonetheless — a sense that it is time to turn the page, to read the next chapter; a yearning for something fresh.

The Millennials, hunched over their cell phones, are looking for the future in their small screens. The rest of us are looking for it in new leaders, new lifestyles; and new thinking, sometimes about old ideas.

Societies go through periods when they feel the need to change up things. But they want a sped-up evolution rather than a full-fledged revolution. This is such a time.

Change is everywhere from the bold, new things television is doing — frontal nudity, gay coupling and interracial love — to the kind of car we favor.

While we grapple with change and yearn for the new, we are surprisingly open-minded. American values appear to be undergoing a recalibration: We are getting more socially tolerant. Social conservatives are a diminished force.

Young people do not have the same commitment  that their parents had to conventional employment, to be defined by where they work. This leads to a world where people are less concerned with appearances, and all that goes with appearances. The business suit and its essential accoutrement, the necktie, are on the way out – and in much of the country, they are now curiously out of date. Apartments are being favored over houses because of new social values.

My generation experienced the hopeful 1940s (just the tail end), the smug 1950s, the turbulent 1960s, the oil-shocked 1970s, and the computer-excited 1980s, which continued unabated until the dot-com bubble burst at the turn of the century – but re-inflated with new developments in Internet products like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

In recent times, the only new American billionaire outside of the Internet was Hamdi Ulukaya, who popularized Greek yogurt in country hungry for yogurt choices. That is a dumbfounding fact. It means that it will be harder to get investment in old-line businesses and start-ups. The smart money has become myopically obsessed with the cyberworld.

If you were to go to Wall Street today to raise money for a new nuclear reactor that put all doubts of the past to rest and offered income for 100 years — there are such machines on the drawing board – you would find it hard to raise money; easier for a new Internet messaging system. This when there is no shortage of Internet messages (too many, I cry each morning). We are leery of the hard and enamored of the soft.

We sense that the education system is not doing its job; that it is broken and needs fixing. But how, we are not sure. We are sure, though, that we are going to change it.

We sense that we had the dynamic wrong in foreign affairs; that change at home, like toppling a generation of political leadership, is desirable, while toppling leaders abroad is a fraught undertaking, as with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad.

We feel less good about the wealthy, and we are less sure that there are secure places for us in the future. We watch cooking shows and order in pizza. We gave up smoking and started jogging. But we are, so to speak, deaf to the damage we are doing to our ears with incessant music piped to them by earbuds.

We are more nationalistic and less confident at the same time. We treasure our values more, and wonder about their long-term durability.

The largest contradiction that can easily be inspected is in the themes of Trump and Sanders: Trump has rehabilitated a kind of racism aimed at immigrants, while Sanders has made the taboo word “socialism” acceptable in political dialogue.

The desire for change has moved from a slight wish to a hard desire for a new alignment. It is everywhere, from what we eat to how we feel about the climate. But we do not agree on this new alignment, hence the huge gulf between Sanders followers and Trump adherents. 

Llewellyn King is a long-time publisher, international business consultant and columnist (and friend of the overseer of New England Diary). This piece first ran inInsideSources.