The world is about to be violently shaken by a proclamation from the Trump administration that the staff of the EPA and USDA, and the departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and the Interior, can no longer share data with the public through press releases, blogs, messages or social media postings. The new administration is making clear its intention to hamstring, destaff or devolve many government functions and entire departments, and that includes the public sharing of scientific data.
This is more than a little worrisome: Government data, publicly funded, is generally a politically- and financially-agnostic source of data, and provides information to weigh against the data provided by corporations and politicians that
may usually have their own agenda and intentional slant on their findings.
In acting to censor government data, the Trump administration is allowing corporations to tell us the sky is polka-dotted, and hiding any government data that says it’s blue. And yes, that is a very simple example. If you’d prefer: Corporations can now tell you that 100 parts per million of lead is okay in your drinking water… and the government report that says no more than 15 parts per billion of lead is considered safe will be hidden from you.
The accuracy of daily weather reports will also be hit below the belt. If you thought your weather app seemed like hit-or-miss accuracy before… just wait.
As Kendra Pierre-Louis of Popular Science put it on Tuesday:
Scientific inquiry is meant to produce hard facts that the world can rely on. But the easiest way to make science lie is to keep the public from interrogating it.
Historically, the United States has been one of the best examples of a government that shared information with the public. Perfect? Not even close (as Kendra’s PS article points out, “to this day, the quantity of oil spewed into the ocean during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil spill remains something of a mystery”). But in most areas, government data has been either freely shared or produced in accordance of requests through the Freedom of Information Act. I suppose steps will be taken now to abolish the act as well… or perhaps the new administration, which has already shown a clear disregard for government procedures, will simply ignore all FoI requests.
So, what can we look forward to in this state? How about food labels with inaccurate ingredient lists? Crops harvested from contaminated fields? Food manufacturers that don’t have to reveal what they really put into your fast foods and energy drinks, and nutrition labels that make Doritos look heart-healthy?
And how about manufacturers that don’t have to report on the emissions their plants produce, the health problems of their workers, or how many plants and animals they allowed to become extinct when they put their plants on their habitats or strip-mine the local countryside. How about not knowing when the lack of ozone in your sky is allowing raw sunlight to fan the flames of skin cancer on your head? How about not being able to find out how much oil or fracking chemicals have been flushed onto your property, or how many days you’ll have until their toxicity kills you and your family?
These are only a few of the examples of damage that will be caused by the gag orders on the EPA and USDA… and it’s only Day One of the new, pro-big-corporate, anti-everything-else administration. These are the things that government data and oversight provides for us; information that keeps Americans safe and healthy. Removing that source of information will leave us blindfolded, easy prey for corporations to isolate, lie to, steal from and leave us too ill to fight back.
As someone else pointed out: “We didn’t leave a fox in charge of the henhouse; we left a bulldozer in charge of the henhouse.” And now, we won’t even be able to see the dozer coming.