This post is based on an Insight Piece in the 4 February 2017 issue of the New Scientist titled “US scientists can look to Canada for ways to fight a crackdown.” “Stupidity Pandemic” is a term used in prior healthy memory blog posts, and it has been substituted for “crackdown” as it accurately characterizes what is happening in the United States.
The article notes that George Orwell, the author of “1984” said that “Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Empirical facts are especially unwelcome to a political establishment that wants to provide their own “alternative” facts.
Already during just his first week in office, Trump launched orders to gag scientists in federal agencies, and raised the possibility that political officials may now need to clear empirical findings before they can be published. The Environmental Protection Agency was hit with a freeze on all contracts and grants. All existing information published by the EPA would also be examined, and the release of new work put on hold pending possible case-by-case scrutiny. Agency staff have also been barred from updating its social media accounts or taking to the press without clearance from the top. Does this not have some of the flavor of 1984?
The Department of Health and Human Services was ordered not to communicate with external officials. This proscription included members of Congress. The Department of Agriculture reminded staff to get clearance before talking to the press and its research division was old not to issue public statements.
The New Scientist article notes that this patten of gagging and censoring scientists will have a familiar ring in Canada. During the conservative government of Stephen Harper between 2006 and 2015, he sacked more than 2000 fisheries and environmental scientists, and cut climate, Arctic and air pollution research.
During this “war on science” libraries journal collections were trashed and researchers reported being leaned on to allay politically sensitive conclusions. Federally employed scientists were banned from speaking in public or to the press without permission, and this permission was often denied or delayed. Government chaperones sat in on press interviews. Some scientists learned not to speak up at all. Climate stories all but vanished from the press.
Michael Oman-Reagan of Memorial University in St John’s Canada says,”The lesson from the Canadian war on science for US scientists is: speak out now, organize, stand in solidarity, be an activist, and resist.”
Some US scientists are doing this. US scientists have started making additional precautionary backups of publicly funded environment data sets. A scientists’ march on Washington is in the works, and an action group is trying to get more scientists to run for public office.
George Orwell said keep restating the empirically obvious—because “the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.”
The good news is that Canada managed to recover. Let us hope that US citizens have the intelligence of ridding the country of an anti-science, anti-truth government.