Scientists Scramble to Hold off a New Dark Age

December 13, 2016


Here at the world’s largest scientific meeting, the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, the mood is tinged with a steely resolve.
Have been interviewing scientists and will continue through the week.

It’s come to this.

Washington Post:

Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

In recent weeks, President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a growing list of Cabinet members who have questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus around global warming. His transition team at the Department of Energy has asked agency officials for names of employees and contractors who have participated in international climate talks and worked on the scientific basis for Obama administration-era regulations of carbon emissions. One Trump adviser suggested that NASA no longer should conduct climate research and instead should focus on space exploration.

Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Trump has appointed a “band of climate conspiracy theorists” to run transition efforts at various agencies, along with nominees to lead them who share similar views.

“They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It’s not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” Halpern said in an email. “There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared. . . . Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programs storm the castle.”

For now:

Joe Davidson in the Washington Post:

Global warming — “it’s a hoax.”

Donald Trump has said that more than once.

So it’s understandable that the request by the president-elect’s transition team for the names of individual Energy Department employees and contractors who worked on the issue makes them worry that the trick could be on them.

“There is major concern amongst my members,” said Jeff Eagan, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) chapter at the department’s headquarters building in Washington. He’s also a 17-year Energy employee, but was speaking in his union capacity. “I have received lots of calls, emails, messages expressing shock and dismay.”

The scientists and their colleagues at Energy know global warming is real. What they don’t know is what Trump might do to those whose work has been in line with the science and the Obama administration, which has spoken about “the urgent imperatives of climate change.”

Given civil service protections, it’s not likely department employees would be fired for working on climate change. There is good reason for concern, however. Trump advisers have urged him to fire feds faster and Energy staffers know protections for senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been weakened. But firing isn’t the only way to punish people.

“A greater concern would be that selected employees could be marginalized, i.e., ignored, by new leadership at the Department solely based on unfounded conjecture that those employees cannot be trusted by the new political team,” said John Palguta, a civil service expert with decades of federal government experience. “The consequences for contract employees could be greater if a future decision not to renew a contract is influenced by the same unsupported speculation.”

41 Responses to “Scientists Scramble to Hold off a New Dark Age”

  1. Kiwiiano Says:

    Tom, did I see an offer on eBay for discounted foil hats, coats AND tents? It’ll make your day!!

  2. toddinnorway Says:

    Big Science organisations need to take a page or two from the playbook of the science of messaging. There should be a massive public relations campaign to remind the general public that science is the basis of

    – computer technology
    – computer software, including global social network platforms
    – flat screens
    – GPS
    – Optimized crop biologies and species without which billiions more people would starve tomorrow
    – antibiotics without which billions would die of simple infections
    – cancer treatment that is still improving and allowing hundreds of millions to survive cancer
    – water purification
    – vaccines that have wiped out smallpox and more
    – medicines that cure disease in general
    – technology that won WWII, including radar and more
    – photovoltaic panels that are nothing short of an energy technology miracle
    – computer modelling that supports weather forecasting
    – satellites that provide enhanced global communications, weather monitoring, like watching hurricanes form and move, and more
    – material science that gives us modern aircraft
    – The Hubble Telescope and more that give us unprecedented visualization of the universe
    – and climate science, which informs us to adjust our use of energy and land

    • redskylite Says:

      Agreed even oil exploration & extraction on large modern scales needs a staff of scientists and geologists, (who are well versed in Earth Science), and even Trumps construction projects are a product of science and science disciplines. He would do well to appreciate and remember that and get of this anti-science track.

    • Unfortunately science also effectively created the tools that are now being used to disseminate misinformation by the likes of Tommy et al …

      • toddinnorway Says:

        The science of filtering comments is pretty easy to implement. It amazes me that Peter does not use it. He is unwittingly giving a voice for the echo chamber of science denial and alternate right wackos. I say just keep their comments out.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      To paraphrase a bit:

      “Science: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Scientific Truth Seeker and its crew . Its never-ending mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new knowledge and new understandings TO BENEFIT MANKIND, to boldly go where no man has gone before”.

      The problem lies less with the “messaging” of the scientists, and more with how their message of “benefits to all mankind” has been hijacked by the greedy rich, the free-marketers, and the capitalists in order to fill their pockets with that other human “invention”—–money. To look at just some:

      – global social network platforms (used to lull and brainwash the masses)
      – Optimized crop biologies and species without which billiions more people would starve tomorrow (controlled by Big Ag—-Monsanto and Dow—-and priced out of reach of the world’s poor)
      – antibiotics without which billions would die of simple infections (controlled by Big Pharma and ditto on the poor)
      – medicines that cure disease in general (ditto, ditto)
      – technology that won WWII, including radar and more (yes, a real “boon”—just like the clubs, pointed sticks, bows and arrow, guns and gunpowder that came before and the nuclear weapons that came after)
      – computer modelling that supports weather forecasting (and computerized stock trading that allows the rich to bleed the 99%)
      – material science that gives us modern aircraft (and all the many thousands of toxic substance that are poisoning the planet)

      • toddinnorway Says:

        Ok, how about a simpler message…. a hypothetical 30 second TV ad….
        “Hi, I’m Karen and I survived the Ebola outbreak despite having spent 6 months surrounded by Ebola victims who I treated. How did I do that? I was vaccinated for Ebola with a new vaccine that a team of scientists developed after months of continuous research, testing and development, building on the collective scientific knowledge on viruses made available by thousands of dedicated scientists, working for the benefit of humans across the globe.
        Thank you science.
        The scientific community has given us countless benefits from the science-based approach. If this community tells me that global warming is a problem we understand and should actively prevent and manage, then I think it is a great idea to believe them.”

        • dumboldguy Says:

          I like that one—-a good message. However, playing messages like this everywhere and all the time will NOT counter the craziness put out by the science deniers and the greedy rich, who play on fears, emotions, and “beliefs” rather than facts—-they address the baser instincts of mankind, the self-centered “get yours first” mentality so that they can profit from it. Not to be vulgar, but until and unless we can overcome the mass insanity that has produced global capitalism, consumerism, AGW, and now Trump, “positive science messaging” is just pissing into the wind.

          Latest cabinet appointment flash—-Perry for Secretary of Energy. For those who don’t remember, Perry said during a debate that he was going to eliminate three departments if elected—-Commerce, Education, and…..HE FORGOT THE THIRD ONE.

          And guess what?—-it was ENERGY—-Perry is another member of the wrecking crew arriving on the scene. (And I will again plug the book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Govern, Thomas Frank, 2008—–a real “how to do it” manual for the Trumpers)

          • Kiwiiano Says:

            Wrecking Commerce, Education, Energy…..Science in general. How long before some manufactured crisis that necessitates dismantling the electoral process locking Trumpism in permanently? Not that that would be a a totally bad thing given the Electoral College snafu and the thought that the ilk of Tommy Poo have a vote, but we spiral back to “who shall guard the Guardians?”

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Did you really mean to say this or did you misspeak?

            “….dismantling the electoral process locking Trumpism in permanently…..Not that that would be a a totally bad thing…”

          • Kiwiiano Says:

            Given the casual and shameless way American politicians gerrymander electorates, miscount votes, block voters, pander to the very rich, etc, I’d say you should be very aware of the possibility of electoral corruption over-riding the Constitution. You were warned by James Madison “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy”. Fighting Al Qaeda brought a whole raft of oppression (try going through LAX security any time) no doubt ISIS will bring even more.
            Back in 1867-68 I was in VietNam during a round of anti-corruption moves by the US authorities trying to tidy up the Vietnamese, for whom it must be admitted corruption is part of everyday life. I didn’t realise until about the time of 9/11 that the US has always been riddled with corruption, far more pervasive and hypocritical than VN ever was.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Still trying to understand why you think locking in Trumpism permanently would be a good thing for the U.S. and the world (???)

          • toddinnorway Says:

            The first threshold of effective messaging is to achieve trust with those who you want to positively receive your message. Without this, it is a waste of time. Once you build the trust in the messaging of the science community, then the wackos on the alt right will be effectively neutralized in their messaging.

            I chose the Ebola virus deliberately. There is the subtle unspoken message that if you do not trust the science behind vaccines, then you could be the next Ebola victim (or Zika virus, which we do not have a vaccine for yet, but if science attacks as well, it will happen). The visualization here is implied (refuse the vaccine and you will be bleeding out of all your orifices, or for Zika, deformed babies will be born by the thousands) but should scare the shit out of anti-vacciners, which rumor has it that Trump is sympathetic to these wackos as well.

            So the intent here should function as a bridge to this unspoken message or the follow-up message: if you do not trust the climate science consensus, then you risk being ruined by catastrophic weather events, drought, and worse, which is exactly what the climate deniers are working so hard to misdirect and distract us from with fake news of unsettled science, corrupt scientists, etc..

          • dumboldguy Says:

            The number of Americans who are in any danger of contracting Ebola or Zika is so vanishingly small that they are not the best choices for pro-science “messaging” and “psy-war”. We are not going to “build trust” there any more than we are by talking about the odds of being hit by a meteorite, struck by lightning, or bitten by a shark. What resonates with Joe Moron is threats to his pocketbook and promises that he can be part of that “Great America” that is coming back.

            I’ll say it again, the wackos operate from a base of lies, fear, uncertainty, and doubt—-appeals to feelings and emotions rather than rationality. Subtle unspoken messages, you say? LOL That’s not what got Trump elected.

            The only thing that will scare the shit put of anti-vaxxers, AGW deniers, and the morons who think Trump is on the side of the little man is SHTF time arriving—-epidemics, runaway crazy weather because climate tipping points have been passed, and economic collapse brought on by the greedy rich.

            You are kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

          • Kiwiiano Says:

            Hear, hear!
            (or should I say ‘there, there’?)

      • toddinnorway Says:

        So any tool that can be misused should be outlawed? That is the basis of a nanny state and ultimately how a populace is manipulated and completely controlled.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          I’m not sure who you’re talking to here about “nanny states”—-me or yourself? Didn’t you just say:

          “The science of filtering comments is pretty easy to implement. It amazes me that Peter does not use it. He is unwittingly giving a voice for the echo chamber of science denial and alternate right wackos. I say just keep their comments out.”

          • toddinnorway Says:

            Paid shills who lie through their teeth about climate science should not be given a voice here. That is the stated and implemented policy at .

            I did not say we allow all abuse of all tools and formats in order to avoid a nanny state. Of course not! My point is we do not outlaw blogs with comments because some choose to abuse this format. Likewise we do not outlaw GMOs because the market for these has essentially become an oligarchy of Monsanto and Cargill and one or two others. We need effective market regulation to avoid oligarchies or monopolies in all markets, period. Same with the drug companies. Why we let them to charge superprofit margins for life-essential drugs is beyond all rational explanation, except that, they have bought enough politicians to achieve this.

  3. Kiwiiano Says:

    dumboldguy: …..the thought occurred to me that having some sort of IQ test to qualify for the right to vote might, just might be not a bad thing. Ascertaining the ability to tell whether information is bull-shit would be a good start. Admittedly it would be a bitch to implement and there could be problems if too many parliamentarians fail the test, but……

  4. mboli Says:

    And in other news, denier arguments, expostulations, comment threads, articles, talking points, etc. from around the net are all being archived and will be available for posterity.
    It all serves as data for future historians and social scientists who will look back at this era, with its weak response to climate change, and research the question: “What the bleep were they thinking!”
    This trove of data is not under threat from the incoming Trump administration.

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