Trump Is Copying the Bush Censorship Playbook - Scientists Aren't Standing for It

As President George W. Bush said, “Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me ... You can’t get fooled again!”

During the his Administration, political appointees censored climate science reports from government agencies, and mostly got away with it by gagging the scientists. A survey found that nearly half of 1,600 government scientists at seven agencies ranging from NASA to the EPA had been warned against using terms like “global warming” in reports or speeches, throughout Bush’s eight-year presidency.

Unaccustomed to being strong-armed by their own administrators, some government scientists reacted with what former US Climate Change Science Program senior associate Rick Piltz called “an anticipatory kind of self-censorship.” As a result, the Bush Administration’s efforts to smother scientific findings concerning global warming in government reports were remarkably effective.

Trump is dusting off the Bush censorship playbook

Perhaps assuming those tactics would work again, the Trump Administration has copied the Bush scientific censorship playbook. They issued de facto gag orders to government science agencies like the EPA and USDA, ordered that the EPA take down its climate webpage, and have mandated that any studies or data from EPA scientists must undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public.

However, the Trump Administration is quickly realizing that scientists learned from the Bush scandal. This time around they’re not trying to appease the political appointees by staying quiet and allowing the censorship to happen.

We saw an early indication that the Bush tactics won’t succeed in 2017 when the Trump transition team launched an inquisition into Department of Energy employees working on climate change. The department refused to provide the requested list, and in the face of public and media outrage, the Trump team retreated. Around the same time, climate scientists held a ‘rally to stand up for science’ in San Francisco, fearing that the new administration would bully and censor scientists.

Nevertheless, the Trump Administration ignored those warning signs and continued to follow the Bush climate science censorship playbook. It hasn’t worked.

Reacting to the deletion of some National Parks Service tweets of climate change facts, a number of “resistance” Twitter accounts ostensibly run by government scientists have been created. Most recently, the Trump Administration had ordered that the EPA delete its climate webpage, but again in the face of public and media outrage has retreated.

This time around, government scientists have been quick to blow the whistle against political censorship of science, either by contacting congressional offices or journalists. Whistleblowers can contact Guardian journalists securely and anonymously by following these instructions.

Scientists are even becoming proactive. Following on the tremendous success of the Women’s March on Trump’s first full day as President, a group is organizing a March for Science sometime in March 2017.

Scientists are right to feel threatened

It’s possible that reactions to these Trump Administration moves are overblown - that they’re simply the result of a clumsy transition period and weren’t meant to signal a permanent censorship of science. But Trump has given scientists every reason to feel threatened.

For example, he appointed Myron Ebell to lead his EPA transition team - an oil and coal-funded enemy of science who wants to gut the agency. That team also included David Schnare and Chris Horner, who have spent much of their careers harassing and intimidating climate scientists. Here’s what the transition team had to say about how the EPA currently uses science:EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science ... EPA has greatly increased its science manipulation.

Trump himself has described what the EPA does as “a disgrace.” He then nominated Scott Pruitt to head the agency - a man who has sued the EPA 14 times on behalf of polluters. For his science advisor, Trump is rumored to be considering two climate science deniers. He’s now appointed another climate science denier to lead the NOAA transition.

Who you gonna trust?

The head of the House [Anti-]Science, Space, and Technology Committee Lamar Smith suggested that for accurate information we should rely not on scientists or the media, but solely on Donald Trump.

Donald Trump recently said “I have a running war with the media,” but in reality his war is with facts, and since evidence and facts are the currency of science, scientists fear that he’ll also wage a war on science

A war on science is a war he’s guaranteed to lose. Trump can deny the science, silence the scientists, censor their reports, even fire them from government agencies - but that won’t stop the Earth from heating and its climate from changing at a dangerous rate. At best he would survive a four or eight-year term, leave the planet a worse place for future generations, and be seen as a villain in the history books.

But it looks as though scientists and journalists aren’t going to let that happen without a fight, and kudos to them for standing up to the anti-science bullies on behalf of the planet and future generations. We’ll all have to do our parts to protect science and hold the administration accountable to facts and truth for the next four years.


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