Politics

These Tweets Show What It's Like When Government Feuds With Scientists

January 24th 2017

By:
Lucy Tiven

President Donald Trump's administration banned Environmental Protection Agency staffers from speaking with the press or giving social media updates, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

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The move is part of a group of measures that freeze EPA grants and ban employees from talking about the crackdown openly.

In an email statement provided to ATTN:, an EPA spokesperson said the agency "fully intends to provide" information to the public, and that a "fresh look at public affairs" was common during the transition to a new administration.

However, the move stoked suspicions among scientists that Trump would seek to silence their community.

On the same day that the media freeze was made public, several tweets about climate change sent from Badlands National Park Tuesday afternoon vanished hours after they were posted.

A series of tweets sent this weekend by Michael P. Oman-Reagan, an anthropologist at Canada's Memorial University of Newfoundland, gives some insight to what can happen with the government is at odds with its scientists.

Oman-Reagan shared what he claimed were the impacts of government attacks on science in a widely circulated Twitter thread.

He described a period when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the predecessor of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, cut science programs and implemented severe restrictions on government scientists freely publishing their work. In Canada, this resulted in funding cuts, censorship, firings, muzzling, destruction of libraries, and more, according to Oman-Reagan.

Over 1,000 scientists lost jobs under Harper, who gutted numerous Canadian federal environmental programs. An overwhelming majority of federal scientists — 90 percent — said they felt less able to speak freely about their research in a 2013 survey issued by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

Federal scientists were monitored by government press liaisons at a 2012 research summit, CBC News reports. A policy instituted in 2013 restricted scientists in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ​restricted from publishing research without undergoing a bureaucratic review process, energy and environment magazine DeSmog Canada reports.

"Scientists have noticed a major reduction in the number of requests, particularly from high profile media, who often have same-day deadlines," a 2010 review from organization Environment Canada claims. "Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 per cent." The report links the steep decline to 2007 Harper-imposed communications rules.

Oman-Reagan also offered advice for American scientists and advocates, stressing the importance of resisting silencing measures.

Late Monday, noted climate skeptic Myron Ebell, who led Trump's EPA transition team, confirmed to ProPublica that the contracts and grants were suspended.

“They’re trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen, so any regulations going forward, contracts, grants, hires, they want to make sure to look at them first,” Ebell said. “This may be a little wider than some previous administrations, but it’s very similar to what others have done."

“We’re just trying to get a handle on everything and make sure what goes out reflects the priorities of the new administration,” Trump transition team communications director Doug Ericksen told the AP. Ericksen said he anticipates the communications ban will be lifted by the end of the week. The freeze will not impact EPA grants and contracts for infrastructure construction or pollution clean-up, he added.