Scientists vs Trump
Plans are taking shape for a scientists' march on Washington as US scientists and public officials are finding themselves the forefront of the resistance to Trump. Staff at key agencies have responded to the social media lock-down imposed on them by creating over a dozen anonymously run Twitter accounts such as @AltNatParkSer, @altUSEPA and @RogueNASA to share climate science and crucial facts. In less than 24 hours, @RogueNASA alone has garnered 275,000 followers.
The Twitter resistance seemed to be sparked by the official Badlands National Park twitter account tweeting climate science in defiance of the media shutdown. While the tweets were deleted (and attributed to an ex-employee), they were screenshot and widely shared.
Free communication of public research silenced
Trump administration officials have instructed employees at multiple agencies responsible for overseeing environmental and scientific policy to cease communicating with the public through news releases, official social media accounts and correspondence. At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, communications staff received a memo instructing them that “no social media will be going out” and “a digital strategist will be coming on board” to oversee it. It added, “Incoming media requests will carefully screened.”
Doug Ericksen, the head of communications for Trump's transition has said that during the transition period, he expects scientists will undergo an unspecified internal vetting process before sharing their work outside the agency. Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency who want to publish or present their scientific findings likely will need to have their work reviewed on a "case by case basis" before it can be disseminated. "We'll take a look at what's happening so that the voice coming from the EPA is one that's going to reflect the new administration," It is not clear whether this block on communication would be permanent.
Under President George W. Bush, several agencies restricted journalists’ access to researchers working on climate change and other issues. President Obama instructed agencies to develop a “scientific integrity” policy aimed at clarifying how federal employees could disseminate such information without fear of retribution. The EPA's current scientific integrity policy, which was published in 2012 prohibits "all EPA employees, including scientists, managers and other Agency leadership from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions."
On the Tuesday following Trump's inauguration, staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were told to delete the page on climate change. But this order was reversed the next day, presumably because of negative publicity as this decision was reported, and the information is still available - for the moment.
It is not just the communication of science that's at risk under Trump but the continuation of vital research.
In November, Trump adviser Bob Walker said that the incoming administration would scrap NASA's Earth sciences division, calling its work 'politicized.' This announcement caused outrage and alarm. California governor Jerry Brown responded ""If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite."
Climate scientist Michael Mann said Nasa has a “critical and unique role” in observing Earth and climate change. “Without the support of Nasa, not only the US but the entire world would be taking a hard hit when it comes to understanding the behavior of our climate and the threats posed by human-caused climate change.”
The EPA has been ordered to freeze all its grants and contracts, including programmes for climate research, environmental justice and pollution prevention. It is not clear if this is permanent.
Scientists have been preparing for the possibility of crucial data being wiped since before the election, downloading huge data files related to issues such as climate change and air pollution. This work is still ongoing and urgent, under the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative.
What's behind this science shut-down?
Policy experts have pointed out that reversing Obama's climate policies will require agencies to come up with a scientific justification. Trump is keen to scrap Obama's Clean Power Plan, which pushes states to shift away from coal-fired power plants. But the plan arose out of years of research and litigation, and is justified on the basis that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and, therefore, need to be regulated by the EPA. This 'endangerment' finding was upheld in federal court. If Trump wants to reshape the USA's energy policy to give fossil fuel companies free rein, he needs to silence the scientists. But he may find they are not so easily silenced.
Many of the above-mentioned Twitter accounts are heading off legal action or account closure by switching logos from the official agency ones and issuing statements that they have been handed over to non-federal employees.
Meanwhile at the State Department, the entire senior management, career foreign service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administration just resigned.