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CSLDF: Here’s How Science Has Suffered During the First 1,000 Days of Trump

Posted on 4 November 2019 by Guest Author

This is a repost of the October 17th entry in the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund  blog, by CSLDF Executive Director Lauren Kurtz.

Editor's note: Skeptical Science always tries to discern and respect the sometimes hazy border separating scientific research and its findings from public policy and hence politics. Here we have a situation that springs directly from the political world to negatively affect some of the core operations and functions of scientific inquiry. The effects of this are nonpartisan in terms of their poor outcomes and hence a matter of neutral, natural inclusion in our content.

Here’s How Science Has Suffered During the First 1,000 Days of Trump

The administration’s assault on science includes attempting to cast doubt on climate change, limiting and eliminating access to scientific information, and preventing federal scientists from publicly communicating their research.

In the Silencing Science Tracker, a public database we maintain with Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, we catalog government efforts to restrict, censor, undermine, and misrepresent science. We’ve defined these actions as those that aim to restrict or prohibit scientific research, education, or discussion, or the publication or use of scientific information.

Federal entries in the Silencing Science Tracker broken out by agency

Our analysis of Tracker data reveals where and how the Trump administration is focusing its efforts to silence science. The largest number of entries pertain to actions taken at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), constituting 23 percent of federal entries and the Department of Interior (DOI) at 18 percent.

But other agencies are not immune to attacks on science. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Department of Commerce (DOC)—the parent agency of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA)—are also well-represented in the Tracker.

This is a continuation of the trend we reported in January 2019, with different agencies represented at roughly the same rates as they were earlier in the year. It is worth noting actions to silence science are increasingly spread across a variety of smaller agencies or agencies typically less focused on scientific research, such as the Department of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission.

Climate science also remains the type of science most under attack, at 72 percent of Tracker entries. Other types of science affected include nutrition research, children’s health research, and endangered species listings.

What’s new is that the types of government efforts to silence science have shifted considerably since the beginning of 2019. Reports of government censorship have risen to 39 percent of all entries, up from 26 percent in January. In fact, 65 percent of entries over the past three months—or 13 out of 20 entries—involve government censorship

Silencing Science Tracker entries broken out by type of action

The reasons for these shifts are not clear but we believe, as others have observed, federal treatment of science and research has reached a “crisis point.”

While all administrations are guilty of politicizing science to some degree, government attempts to silence science now happen more frequently and egregiously than ever, from the doctoring of hurricane maps to broadly dismantling federal scientific advisory boards.

The impacts of government attacks on science are dire and concerning. Public health is endangered when scientists are prohibited from speaking to the public; environmental resources are imperiled when scientific research is ignored, and sound policymaking is jeopardized when access to data is restricted.

If you’re a scientist who has experienced or witnessed attempts to silence science, or if you have legal questions related to your work, please contact us to arrange a free, confidential consultation with one of our attorneys.


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Comments 1 to 8:

  1. And the administrations attacks on science have implications that cause even more trouble for example here: NOAA’s chief scientist will investigate why agency backed Trump over its experts on Dorian, email shows

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  2. Please note that the second pie chart repeats the first, although correctly titled from the original source.

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  3. Thanks, jabell. I think we need to hire you! ("hire" not implying actual salary :-) )

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  4. It's odd.  America is the leader in many fields of technology and science and yet has a large portion of it's population and a significant proportion of it's politicians who are science deniers.  I wonder how long her pre-eminent position can last under such conditions. 

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  5. William @4, yes many in America are science deniers, but those that want to do science will still do science, so it probably doesn't matter, and everyone benefits even in their science denialism. This is of course a huge double standard. 

    The problem is when the government itself turns into a science denier and stops funding science or vilifies science so much nobody wants it as a career, and this is where the Trump Administration is heading in all its profound idiocy.

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  6. This is an interesting subject which triggered a recent event. I was watching a 'nature documentary' narrated quite annoyingly by Will Smith. He was over enthusiastically announcing that new research had shown that the Amazon rainforest didn't produce any net increase in oxygen to the atmosphere. The general idea of a forest 'being the lungs of the Earth' seemed to be put in doubt. Vegetation absorbs CO2 and via photosynthesis, produces Oxygen.

    I resolved this issue myself by considering that because the Amazon rainforest is so ancient, the fauna has managed to occupy every available niche. Therefore the oxygen released via photosynthesis is immediately consumed by the animals within the forest before it reaches the atmosphere.

    I then considered the evidence of giant mammal remains found in Tar Brae. Think about this thought experiment. If the animals evolve to absorb all the available oxygen that they can, then they would increase in size but the atmospheric oxygen levels in proxy data of our past would show that the "oxygen levels haven't changed". This concept does take some thinking about.

    I was therefore able to re-establish the concept of "the forests are the lungs of the Earth" by considering the great Arboreal Forest in the Northern hemisphere, the hypothetical one that crosses Siberia and Canada. Because it will be a NEW forest, the fauna hasn't had time to fill the niches, so oxygen is released into the atmosphere.

    I'll try and find some links for the next post.

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  7. See National Geographic 'Why the Amazon doesn't really produce 20% of the world's oxygen", 29 Aug 2019.

    Wow, I've just discovered how big an issue this is. Amazing.

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  8. (Doug_bostrom @ 3) Thanks for the “offer”. I am fundamentally a lurker on sites like SkS and RealClimate, with no direct contribution to climate science. My background is physical photochemistry with lots of years of college chemistry teaching and extracurricular hands-on workshops for teachers at all levels advocating and demonstrating activity-based instruction. Over the past decade, I have tried to learn the fundamentals of climate science and climate disruption, so they are incorporated in my workshops. The message now is that familiar activities and concepts are also a part of climate science and can be used to bring it into the classroom without requiring large amounts of extra time (that isn’t available). Preparing materials for these workshops makes me hypersensitive to nuances of presentation, which you have observed. Thank you for your understanding.

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