President Trump’s troubled relationship with the truth has brought political crisis to Washington’s insiders, but it portends existential crisis for its scientists. Now the workers who form the brain trust of the federal bureaucracy fear their services may soon be no longer needed.
“I have had people call me and ask me to download certain things…in case they get deleted, just to preserve things,” says Kyla Bennett, a former Environmental Protection Agency attorney under the Clinton administration, now a regional advocate with the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As fossil-fuel ally Scott Pruitt takes the reins at the environmental agency he has repeatedly attacked in court, she says, many EPA employees (including younger staffers who have only worked under the more reality-based governance of the Obama administration) are now “preparing to either get laid off or get moved into another [unrelated] job entirely…. This change goes above and beyond anything that we could have possibly anticipated.”
As terror, along with subtle resistance percolate across core regulatory agencies, particularly the climate-focused EPA, Trump’s aggressively pro-business agenda and ethical slippages threaten to chill the intellectual and political climate. Meanwhile, the modest progress Obama made on climate science might vanish altogether.
While scientists within federal agencies are reportedly lying low, Rush Holt, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, spoke out at the organization’s conference in Boston last weekend, while scientists rallied for scientific integrity outside: “When officials use a phrase like ‘alternative facts’ without embarrassment, you know there’s a problem.”