The American Physical Society (APS) has fired their long-running head lobbyist and director of public affairs after receiving heat for a congratulatory press release that the widely-respected scientist issued on behalf of the society to President-elect Donald Trump after the November elections, Science reports.
Michael Lubell, who is considered one of the most visible spokespeople for the scientific community, was director of public affairs and head of the APS Washington, D.C., office until he was abruptly let go earlier this month after 22 years at the society. Now the public figurehead of the 53,000 member APS, based in nearby College Park, Maryland, has found himself out of a job.
Lubell was known for being outspoken in his opinions, and he had voiced considerable displeasure at Trump’s election in November through a series of tweets on Twitter.
Just hours after Trump’s victory, he called the president-elect “the first antiscience president we have ever had,” and said that the consequences for scientists were going to be “very, very severe.”
Little did he know that he would be among the first scientists to experience those consequences, though it was not for the anti-Trump statements, but ironically because of a congratulatory press release he issued on behalf of the APS.
The day after the election, the APS Washington, D.C., office issued a statement congratulating Trump and urging him and the new members of Congress “to make sustained and robust funding of scientific research a top priority.” The release said that doing so would help the Trump administration “achieve its goal captured in its slogan ‘Make America Great Again.'”
The release, which was credited to Tawanda Johnson of the APS’ Washington, D.C. office, went on to say that the United States ranks 10th worldwide in “overall innovation,” thanks in part to less-than-adequate funding for scientific research, Retraction Watch reported.
Many in the scientific community were reportedly outraged at the press release, thinking that the APS was selling out to Trump. Science lovers flooded Twitter with angry tweets.
“Your statement is craven and undeserving of your PoC/LGBT membership. Withdraw it. Do not normalize hate,” tweeted Adrian Lucy, an astronomer at Columbia University.
Another Twitter member called the statement “shameless ring-kissing” and Anna Watts, an astrophysicist in Amsterdam, tweeted “why not just go with ‘Physicists for fascism’ and be done with it?”
The APS withdrew the statement within a day, issuing a new press release in which the society apologized.
“We apologize for the recent press release concerning the results of the U.S. presidential election. APS has since retracted the press release, which was not properly vetted by the leadership. We are implementing procedures so as not to repeat this regrettable mistake. APS will continue to work in a nonpartisan fashion to strengthen scientific research and support an inclusive community.”
Later in November, the APS posted an explanation for their prompt retraction of the congratulatory statement and blamed Lubell.
Lubell, who is also a professor of physics at City College of New York, said that some scientists have been uncomfortable with any involvement of the APS in politics. He said that he disagrees with the stand, and that the society should not ignore political events that could have a negative impact on its members.
In a memo to staff and those involved in policy matters on December 8, CEO Kate Kirby announced Lubell’s departure.
“In his 22 years of dedicated service to APS … he brought considerable experience, passion, and original thinking to his advocacy and advisory role. His efforts contributed to a large number of noteworthy successes of the Society, and benefited physicists and science significantly.”
Others in the physics community credit Lubell with raising APS’s profile in Washington by networking with other scientific groups to advocate on behalf of research.
“He was always very much on top of the issues we were all worried about,” said Samuel Rankin, head of the Washington, D.C., office of the American Mathematical Society. “He was very savvy, and he knew how to attack things head on.”
APS officials declined to comment on whether his departure was connected to the ill-fated press release.
Lubell, who continues to teach, said he hopes to take a sabbatical next fall to write a book on U.S. science policy going all the way back to the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803.
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