Trump mutes US agencies: Is this what a science clampdown looks like?

25 Jan 2017

Image: kwest/shutterstock

After rounding on the National Park Service following a tweet that showed sparse crowds at the presidential inauguration, Donald Trump is expanding what looks like a gagging order.

Science and social media don’t appear to be Donald Trump’s ideal combination, after the newly installed 45th president of the US took action against tweets that could embarrass his alternatively factual reign.

In what could pretty easily be considered a move to hush dissenting views, the Trump administration appears to have provided new, restrictive directives to a number of agencies, covering the ways in which they can communicate to the public.

Keep it hush

The affected departments include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Reuters, a source at the EPA said that staff had been told not to speak to reporters or publish any press releases or blog posts on social media. Oddly, the restrictions appear to include the promotion of any talks, conferences or webinars planned for the next two months.

There are five EPA events planned before the end of January, including a webinar on Arctic research.

In related news, Trump revived plans for the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, expanding US energy infrastructure despite widespread public distaste for the move.

The USDA, which includes thousands of scientists, must stop communicating with the public about taxpayer-funded work, according to documents seen by BuzzFeed.

Where were you?

Not long after taking office, the Trump administration was at the centre of a rather pointless argument over attendee figures at the inauguration. Despite photographic evidence to the contrary, the administration claimed record numbers of the public attended.

This led to much social media backlash and the US National Park Service got involved, which appears to have been an ill-advised move.

Retweeting an image of crowds at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration beside the more sparsely populated Trump inauguration seems to have preceded this clampdown on the flow of information from bodies involved in science in the US.

Clearly, someone was not happy.

Mount Rainier National Park ceased Twitter activity almost immediately, before returning with what was primarily road safety information.

Meanwhile, the Badlands National Park Twitter feed has removed climate change tweets sent out in the early hours after news of the clampdown emerged.

The tweets now adorning various National Park Service accounts are of a far less controversial nature.

The evidence is everywhere

Environmental changes may be easy to keep quiet in the short term, but in the long term, it’s impossible. In a recent scientific report – one area not being kept hush at the EPA, incidentally – it emerged that 60pc of primate species were under threat of extinction.

The pressures affecting hundreds of species include global and local market demands, leading to extensive habitat loss through the expansion of industrial agriculture, large-scale cattle ranching, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam building, and the construction of new road networks in primate regions.

Just before Christmas, the IUCN’s most recent red list of species under threat went big, highlighting the plummeting giraffe populations in the wild.

Wild tiger populations have plummeted by 97pc in the past 100 or so years, with India’s mangroves, Russia’s snow-covered plains and south-east Asia’s dense rainforests down to their final 3,200.

Elsewhere, one of the key glaciers in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Pine Island Glacier, is breaking apart from the inside out, suggesting that the ocean is weakening ice on the edges of the continent.

And beyond the melting of the ice, this brings concerns for coastlines globally, as Pine Island is one of two glaciers that researchers believe are most likely to undergo rapid retreat, whereby melting would flood coastlines around the world.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic