The Long and Varied History of Science in the State of the Union

Feb 5, 2018

Credit The White House

The only overt mention of science came late in President Trump’s first State of the Union address, one that many scientists have criticized for ignoring or misrepresenting climate science and failing to recognize the science connections inherent in infrastructure and immigration policy.

He said, “Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery.”

Jamie Vernon, executive director and CEO of Sigma Xi and publisher of American Scientist, says that it was a relatively neutral nod to the importance of science.

“I think he was playing it safe,” said Vernon.

It wouldn’t be the first time for an American president. Vernon (@JLVernonPhD) spent the State of the Union tweeting quotes from past presidential addresses, and says that most presidents have recognized the value of science, even if their policies were at odds with the results of some research. And, with the exception of the mid-twentieth century, presidents have tended to be less effusive about science during periods of conflict.

But the history of science in annual presidential addresses goes back to the very beginning – to President George Washington addressing the Continental Congress and highlighting the importance of standardizing weights, measures, and currency in the new nation.

“There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature," Washington said.