Not too long ago, the United States president and the Congress evidenced some hostility towards scientific research. Federal officials who had no scientific credentials were found to have altered the recommendations of federal agency scientists. Limits were imposed on the ability of federal scientists to speak publicly and those who did so were often punished. Restrictions on attendance at scientific meetings were implemented. A federal rule allowed anyone, regardless of scientific qualifications, to challenge the scientific information upon which federal agencies relied.
In short, science was dissed.
And we all survived. After 21 Jan 2009, things got better in a lot of ways. Some members of Congress continued to pursue an anti-science agenda, both as to the use of science (particularly in the context of climate change) and the funding for scientific research, with the chair of the House Science Committee pushing legislation to force NSF to restrict funding to research "in the national interest," ridiculing specific grants, and assailing the peer review process. Overall, though, things got better.
This time it feels different. More extreme. More permanent. Nuclear. It feels as though they are going to break it beyond repair.
- Prior to the inauguration, a request was made of DOE for the names of all climate change scientists. The request was withdrawn after public uproar but DOE scientists heard the message loud and clear. They have since backed up all their data on non-government computers outside the United States.
- The administration has instituted what it described as a temporary media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants, part of a broader communications clampdown within the executive branch.
- An internal email sent to staff at the USDA Agricultural Research Service unit this week called for a suspension of “public-facing documents,” including news releases and photos. The original email, sent Jan. 23, said: "Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents. This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content." The USDA later said that the e-mail was flawed and that new guidance would be issued to replace it. The ARS focuses on scientific research into the main issues facing agriculture, including long-term climate change.
- The nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget said on Facebook, "… do we really need government funded research at all." In his committee hearing, he was asked if he agreed that federal funding for science had promoted innovation. Mulvaney, who had since deleted the post from Facebook, agreed.
And here we were worried about the nuclear codes.