By Robin Andrews
Science and reason are up for one hell of a fight under the Trump administration. We now live in the Orwellian world of “alternative facts”, which are like facts, but bullshit. It’s surely only a matter of time before the Ministry of Truth is set up.
Right off the bat, controversial oil pipelines have been resurrected on the very same day Trump claimed to the automobile industry that he’s an “environmentalist.” References to climate change have been eradicated from the White House website, with orders for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow suit. Clean power plans have been scuttled, various scientific agencies are having their Twitter accounts censured, and scientific funding is being bled dry.
Now, as internal memos published by BuzzFeed have revealed, federal scientists were also briefly muzzled from speaking about their work with the press.
The EPA, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Transportation and the National Park Service – all of which contain thousands upon thousands of taxpayer-funded scientists – were told a few days ago to cease and desist any form of communication with the public and the media when it came to their research.
Although still allowed to publish in scientific journals, any reference to their work in any other form would have been banned. News releases, photographs, infographics, fact sheets, and any social media content on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere would be prohibited in any form, according to the memos.
They did not explicitly reference President Trump or his new administration, but this is the only authority such a widespread gagging order could have originated from. However, at the time of writing, the administrator of the scientific wing of the USDA rescinded this muzzling order.
There’s no update as of yet on whether or not the other federal agencies have decided to fight back against this information suppression.
It’s worth noting that these agencies ramped up their investigations into climate change and environmental protection under the Obama administration. We’ve extensively covered the climate change denial aspects of Trump and his cabinet, so it comes as no surprise that they’re attempting to silence their communications to the public.
Worryingly, this is a tactic that has been recently seen in other democracies around the world, including in Canada (under the Harper administration) and right now in the UK.
Although many US governments have to some degree ordered scientists to keep quiet about certain research topics (particularly during a government changeover, as seen during the Bush-Obama transition) the speed at which the Trump administration is apparently seeking to muzzle America’s scientists is astonishing, to say the least.
“To our knowledge, there is not a precedent for large-scale communication freezes like this,” Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told BuzzFeed News.
It’s difficult to completely ban scientists from researching on a particular topic. However, by preventing researchers from even talking about their work, they are clearly hoping the public will stop paying attention to the dangerously warming world and the increasingly decrepit environment around them.
Of course, scientists aren’t going to just stand by and let this happen. They are making it exceedingly clear, through protests, open letters, data salvaging, clever hashtags, and even renegade Twitter accounts, that they will not be silenced.
Ladies and gentlemen, fans of science and reason – welcome to the Resistance.