In a March meeting with Bill Gates, President Trump reportedly asked the billionaire philanthropist if he wanted the prestigious job of White House science advisor, a role that’s been left unfilled up to this point.
Apparently, without hesitation, Gates declined the proposition, according to Stat News, which recently sat down with Gates to discuss the rather unsettling possibility of another virulent global flu pandemic. (In 1918-1919, a now common strain of flu killed as many as 50 million people worldwide.)
After getting Trump excited about the potential of a universal flu vaccine — which Gates hopes innovative scientists will achieve with his financial backing — Gates is said to have asked why the president still hadn’t filled the important position of White House science advisor.
“I mentioned: ‘Hey, maybe we should have a science advisor’,” said Gates.
In response, Trump asked if Gates wanted the job, to which Gates replied, “That’s not a good use of my time.”
That’s a diplomatic, if not completely honest response. Gates is a lot of things: a computer programmer, philanthropist, celebrity, businessman, etc. But he’s not technically a scientist.
Mashable contacted the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for confirmation that the event took place, and will update this story upon hearing back.
In any case, there’s little doubt the intelligent Gates understands much about the realms of sciences that he’s actively engaged in — notably vaccines and public health — but the science advisor vacancy is surely better filled by a practicing scientist. The last scientific advisor to grace the White House, John Holdren, served President Obama for eight years. Following Obama’s departure, Holdren returned to his post at Harvard University, where he is a professor of environmental science and policy in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Trump is the first president in more than half a century, since President John F. Kennedy, who hasn’t nominated a science advisor in the first year of his term. It’s unknown whether Trump will ever nominate anyone, though it would likely be to his benefit. While president, Trump has failed to recognize that weather and climate are substantially different phenomena, for instance.
Gates called the meeting “the longest conversation about universal flu vaccine that the president’s ever had.” So, perhaps the president — who still has no science advisor — came to better recognize the benefits of the sciences, particularly those in the public health realm, to greater society. Perhaps.
A flu pandemic, according to the CDC, is what happens when a new flu strain leads to a global outbreak, which is what humanity experienced in 1918-1919. Since our bodies have never encountered the bug before, we have little to no immune defense. A universal vaccine — still just a medical hope for scientists around the world — could dramatically limit a new pathogen’s ability to overtake our hapless bodies.
“One thing’s for sure: No matter what your framework is, even if it’s that human benefits outside the country count for zero, stopping pandemics is a smart thing,” said Gates.