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RP Siegel headshot

What We Lose if We Silence Science

By RP Siegel

Earlier this week, the Trump administration instructed employees at certain federal agencies to stop communicating with the public through news releases, official social media accounts and all forms of correspondence.

The order pertains to agencies whose work is science-based and involves the environment, namely the Environmental Protection Agency and divisions of the departments of Interior and Agriculture.

By some accounts, the restriction will be temporary, as a means of controlling messaging as the new regime takes over. But it's unclear when and if the orders will be lifted.

It’s not unusual for a new administration to institute new policies concerning communication with the public. But in these days, when information has been so readily available, particularly in light of Obama’s emphasis on transparency, this comes as a shock.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising to find that some scientists employed at these agencies are not in agreement with the direction the new president wants to go, particularly when it comes to protecting the environment. So, this could simply be seen as precautionary on his part to keep disgruntled employees from using social media to stir up public discontent as new policies are laid out. After all, it would never do to have federal employees whipping up emotions through their Twitter accounts -- unless, of course, they happen to live in the White House.

As outrageous as this is, some say it's merely Trump’s paranoia at play. But others feared a much darker possibility after the new administration ordered the EPA to remove all references to climate change from its website.

The EPA, as a representative institution of the U.S. government, has long been held as a bastion of scientific fact where citizens could safely turn for unbiased information regarding environmental issues. Indeed, since its inception the EPA has been a refuge against the bias of corporate attempts to whitewash, or greenwash, the hazards posed by products that were turning profits for them. Now it appears that the government itself, in collusion with industry, wants to inject its own bias to support those profits -- particularly with respect to the fossil fuel industry.

On Wednesday, the administration appeared to back down from its plans to remove climate change references from EPA.gov. "We've been told to stand down," an EPA employee told E&E News, as reported by Science Magazine. At this writing, the EPA's climate page is still online.

The issue of climate change is far too important and too urgent to be swept under the rug in the name of the kind of supercharged capitalism that Trump believes is the answer to all of our problems. The American people need to know what their government is doing. And any attempt to conduct the business of government under a cloak of darkness is a dramatic move away from Democracy. It’s also worth remembering that we the people are paying for these agencies through our tax dollars and that they work for us.

This newly declared war on truth, the attempt to feed the American public a diet of “alternative facts,” in order to enact controversial policies without any reporting, other than that of the administration’s spin, is taken directly out of the playbook of history’s most totalitarian regimes. The practice has long been known as propaganda. It’s clear that if one is to declare war on truth, one must silence the media and the scientific community first.

As New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote in an op/ed on Thursday: “…Now that he has been elected, Trump wants absolute control over the flow of information, to dictate his own version of facts rather than live with the reality of accepted facts. Trump is in a battle to bend the truth to his benefit.”

Fortunately, rogue Twitter accounts mimicking a number of federal agencies ordered to shut down social media have begun to pop up online. The accounts claim to be run by current or former agency employees, maintained during their own free time in a brave attempt to keep the American people informed during this time when freedom of information is under attack.

Image credits: 1) Flickr/Uncalno Tekno; 2) @AltNatParkSer on Twitter

RP Siegel headshot

RP Siegel (1952-2021), was an author and inventor who shined a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work appeared in TriplePundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He was the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP was a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. RP passed away on September 30, 2021. We here at TriplePundit will always be grateful for his insight, wit and hard work.


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