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Consequences of ‘War on Science’

24th Mar 2020
Consequences of ‘War on Science’

The international protest in support of funding for climate change research and keeping political interference out of scientific research, Humbolt University, Berlin, April 22, 2017.

(Credit: Sarah Mirk/WikiCommons)

There are real-world consequences of limiting access to and creating doubt around scientific data. It makes people less trusting of the institutions that they once held in high repute.
The Trump Administration’s war on science has been raging since the beginning of his administration, but its extent and consequences are now being seen.

President Donald Trump prides himself on ridding Government barriers to business. He tends to talk about the environmental regulations that protect natural resources and, in turn, public health, as though they are simply overreactions to a minor problem and hindrances to what is really important – a strong economy.

His gross underestimation of the dire issues, including climate change and most recently, Coronavirus, is cause for concern. He recently made a statement claiming that he did not believe the official 3.4 per cent Coronavirus death rate as reported by the World Health Organization and said that it was “way under 1 per cent.”

He came under fire last September for “Sharpie-gate” where he took a marker to extend Hurricane Dorian’s path so that it included Alabama. There has been an argument over whether this is illegal because the map showed official data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which was meant to inform people in various localities about how prepared they should be for the storm.

The Trump Administration has made its goals clear – do not create an alarm, a goal which has manifested itself in a variety of ways – including suppression of facts. There have been reports of scientists who expose the dangers of certain chemicals being ‘relocated’ to different departments, scientific reviews being edited to include “uncertainty” language around climate change, and of carbon dioxide being described as beneficial because it “may increase plant water use efficiency.” Such instances are the tip of the iceberg.

USA Today reported that the Trump Administration “falsified scientific claims to justify restricting birth control access,” and that officials have been banned from using terms like “evidence-based.” A plethora of climate science data has been taken off US Government websites and valuable studies regarding the effects of toxic chemicals have not been released.

The world trusts US scientific research, and they look to American scientists for guidance, confirmation and collaboration. If that trust is breached for political reasons, the innovative potential may be squandered.

If the Government restricts access to valuable data about the effects of chemicals on the human body and then citizens are exposed to such chemicals, people may get sick. If it is known that the Government regularly modifies “data”, when valuable public safety information comes out, eventually fewer citizens may heed warnings. Scientists themselves are staying out of Government due to fear of oppression for reporting their findings and potential suppression of the findings themselves.

There is a difference between blatant lying about facts and sowing doubt. Lies can be fact-checked, but creating a sense of uncertainty about the truth is much more sinister because it causes people to question everything, including scientific facts. Trump’s senior advisor Kellyanne Conway made headlines in 2017 when she coined the term “alternative facts.”

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared the word of the year to be “post-truth,” defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’

When personal belief versus scientific consensuses shapes climate policy, it could risk public health, the ability for farmers to anticipate and prepare for altered crop yields, and for people living in coastal areas to properly understand the risks they face and plan accordingly.

Denying facts is dangerous. Already, the Trump Administration has dismantled a long list of environmental regulations, including cancelling the requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions, reducing the borders of national monuments in Utah meaning they are no longer protected from resource extraction, and lifting the ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Before the Coronavirus, the American economy was doing well. Some would argue that the rollback of environmental regulations has been helpful to the economy, but to misinform the public about the consequences of such rollbacks means that the public itself is less informed and rightfully less trusting of what the Government says.

If the Trump Administration is going to dismantle any and all climate policies aimed at staving off runaway warming, it should prepare for the consequences of a distrusting public and a less reputable scientific community in the eyes of the world.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, Environmental Columnist

One Response to “Consequences of ‘War on Science’”

Dr Cllr Ken PollockMarch 30, 2020

You highlight serious risks, but there is a danger in accepting the “scientific consensus”. Consensus has no place in science. It matters not how many people believe something, if it later turns out to be false.
The worst thing Obama did was to allow the EPA to classify carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Outrageous! You blame Trump for allowing “carbon dioxide being described as beneficial because it “may increase plant water use efficiency.” Carbon dioxide is essential for all life on earth. Try growing plants without it! It is the source of the carbon on which all organic matter is based.
So don’t let political judgments affect your understanding of science. It spoils the debate.

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