An embarrassing assault on science that’s doomed to fail

When the conservative government took power, one of its first steps was muzzling the nation’s scientists. Overnight, they had to get permission from political appointees to do media interviews. Government data archives began to disappear. Climate scientists were regarded as particularly suspect; one government expert on the fate of polar bears was trailed around a convention floor by handlers who interrupted reporters’ questions.

ADVERTISING


When the conservative government took power, one of its first steps was muzzling the nation’s scientists. Overnight, they had to get permission from political appointees to do media interviews. Government data archives began to disappear. Climate scientists were regarded as particularly suspect; one government expert on the fate of polar bears was trailed around a convention floor by handlers who interrupted reporters’ questions.

This was Canada under Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper between 2006 and 2015. In its early days, the administration of President Donald Trump is moving to replicate Harper’s embarrassing, and ultimately unsuccessful, experiment. In Harper’s defense, he learned the trick from President George W. Bush.

Muzzling scientists does not work. They are too smart, and they find alternate paths to publish and archive their research. As Shakespeare said, truth will out.

Besides, bad news doesn’t stop being bad news just because the leadership puts a gag on it. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide stood at 382 parts per million when Harper became prime minister in 2006. It’s 406 parts per million today. At 450 ppm, permanent and irreversible changes occur. Some scientists say it’s already happening.

But the Trump administration, with allies in Congress, seems to think if it can just keep government scientists from speaking out, all will be well. At the very least, the government no longer will be siding with those who tell inconvenient truths that don’t conform with the Trump agenda. Jobs and profits are at stake.

In his first days in office, Trump issued what were in effect gag orders to scientists within the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture. Official social media accounts were suspended. Scientists were ordered to submit their data for political review before publishing it.

Trump appointed anti-science activists to direct the EPA and handle the transition at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The EPA transition team argued the agency “does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science.”

And then there’s the redoubtable Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. To say he’s a Trump fan is an understatement. “Better to get your news directly from the president,” Smith said in a floor speech Jan. 24. “In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”

Smith’s past targets included the National Science Foundation, NOAA’s climate research, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and anyone who cast doubt on ExxonMobil’s version of climate change.

This year, Smith has broader subpoena powers and a new weapon, the so-called Holman Rule. It allows Congress to single out individual government employees in appropriations bills and cut their salaries to $1.

ADVERTISING


The planet might be heating up, but those powers are chilling.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.