Non-scientist withdraws nomination for USDA top scientist post

By Justin Cremer

November 2, 2017

Sam Clovis at a 2016 Trump campaign event in Iowa. Photo: Alex Hanson

Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign official and conservative radio talk show host with no scientific background, withdrew his name from consideration to be the US Department of Agriculture s chief scientist on Wednesday.

Clovis s withdrawal came just days after it was revealed that he urged a Trump foreign policy adviser to meet with Russian officials. That adviser, George Papadapoulos, pleaded guilty last month to lying to federal agents about his communications with Russian contacts.

In a letter addressed to President Trump, Clovis said that the political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for the position of the USDA s Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics.

Even before the Russia revelation, however, the Trump administration s nomination of Clovis had been highly controversial. Clovis has no science or agriculture background and has a history of questioning scientific facts like climate change. In recent administrations, both Democratic and Republican, this USDA position has been filled by agricultural scientists.

The Clovis nomination had been criticized by many, including former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who told the Alliance for Science in a recent interview that the potential appointment of a non-scientist to this role raises concern about whether or not science is being given the respect it is entitled to at USDA.

That individual is the chief scientist for USDA and the law specifically requires that individual to have that science background. Now I think when the law was crafted, there was an understanding that the science would be related in some significant way to what the Department of Agriculture is involved in, which is agriculture and rural development, Vilsack said.

I don’t think anybody anticipated that the chief scientist would be an economist by trade or have no real formal background in any of the sciences that are directly related to agriculture. The nomination of Mr Clovis raises that question now. I think there is some concern about whether or not he has the qualifications or the positions on certain issues that would be indicative of support for science. I know he has raised some serious concerns about science change, and I think the science on that is overwhelming, Vilsack continued.

In a Oct. 17 letter to Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), Clovis acknoweldged that he has no academic credentials specific to agricultural science but contended that by running for office in the state of Iowa, he gained significant agricultural experience and knowledge .

The White House released a statement on Thursday saying it had received Clovis s decision to withdraw and that the administration respects his decision.