Let’s Pretend It Never Happened

Intellectual Freedom Issues

By: Frederic Murray

From the Resolution on Access to Accurate Information: January 24, 2017, adopted by the ALA Council:

  • The suppression or removal of scientific studies and data that disagree with possible policy positions, for example, the human effects on climate change;
  • The removal of public information from U.S. depository libraries and the libraries of government agencies;

Jason Samenow is an expert. His voice is the type of authoritative source we tell our students to search out and assess when conducting research. His educational background in atmospheric science, his professional work as analyst for the federal government (2000-2010) in climate change, his entrepreneurial activity in founding a professional weather blog and working as a meteorologist, give him the kind of burnished credentials that librarians love to cite when discussing the metrics of authority and relevance.

He does not matter anymore.

At least in the corridors of power at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) he doesn’t matter anymore. To them, he is just another ex-employee with an axe to grind — albeit an axe that turns on an axial tilt of about 23.4° and hurls around the solar system on an ecliptic plane 365 days a year. Though I am sure in the present climate, even this might be up for debate. When Jason Samenow pens an editorial (which we understand is an opinion piece) he does so with the full authority of knowledge, practice and ethical conduct as part of the package.

And what he is telling us is very simple. At the EPA, which for decades served as the best source on climate change, data, information, knowledge and the accumulated wisdom of hundreds (if not thousands) of scientists, has been removed because of “political interference with authoritative, carefully vetted scientific information” that does not agree with the policy outlook of current EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have excellent (untouched) webpages on climate change. They are not run by political appointees.

Shades of Lysenko, long may Trofim rule.

I know about Scott Pruitt. He’s from Oklahoma (attorney general). I’m from Oklahoma (librarian). Fracking, earthquakes, let’s sue the EPA instead. It’s literally the fox in the hen house.

Let’s look at it in another light. There are a number of Oklahomans who have done, and are doing, incredible work in the arts, in business, in education and in science. One of the leading lights in Oklahoma life is someone from my home town: Thomas P. Stafford (lieutenant general, USAF, retired), a NASA astronaut who flew on the Gemini, Apollo, and was commander of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Mission; one of 12 human beings who has been to the moon. The Al Harris Library, where I work, has been selected as a depository for his collected papers. When we are ready to receive them, they will become part of our Digital Commons, open and accessible to anyone with access to a web browser. General Stafford was born in Weatherford, Oklahoma, and this is where his work will be found for both laypeople and historians of science.

The way things stand, his works, once archived, could be removed for political considerations and replaced by Apollo hoax theorists, of which there are many. Or say the collection of oral histories that the Oklahoma Historical Society has complied from the survivors of the Dust Bowl were removed because they reflected failed agricultural policies and were thus political embarrassing. It’s unimaginable, but it is happening right now in the dominion of scientific study.

The suppression of scientific studies and the removal of public information because of overt political pressure is a short-term game for small-minded players. When Scott Pruitt methodically guts the EPA of scientific advisers, as he just did in June with the dismissal of the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), he is stacking the deck for political purposes. This activity is not going unnoticed. The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), which I wrote about in April, has just released its first report. The report provides a thorough “analysis of the changes to the public presentation of climate science.” The EDGI is planning a series of these reports to track the attacks, because that’s what they are, on the EPA. This is history being written in real time.

As a profession we are concerned with the integrity of information, whether we agree with it or not. If something is to be removed, it is because it is outdated, or being updated, not because it offends us politically. For many years, across many different nations, science and politics have always shared an uneasy relationship. In the United States in 2017, it’s easy to see now who is holding the upper hand. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

 


Frederic MurrayFrederic Murray is the head of Instructional Services at the Al Harris Library, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He is a tenured faculty member and as an academic librarian has initiated the growth and expansion of information literacy classes across the campus curriculum. He has presented at state, national and international conferences in the areas of library pedagogy, digital textbooks, and the development of curriculum for Native American Studies. He serves as the managing editor for Administrative Issues Journal, a peer-reviewed, open access journal in its sixth year of publication. He believes deeply in the value of books and the inherent strength found in the human voice. Among his favorite authors are Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Carson McCullers. He can be reached at fredmurr@gmail.com

2 comments

  • “If something is to be removed, it is because it is outdated, or being updated,”

    Here I would disagree, especially when it comes to organisatons such as the EPA; such information should not be removed but annotated as being “outdated, or being updated”. This is not just for archival/preservation purposes but also a question of scientific transparency.

    Clearly this all the more the case for items “which offend politically”, (no chance that they will kept with an appropriate annotation), but annotation instead of removal of ‘outdated’ items leaves less argument for ‘political’ removal.

  • Mark, you’re correct, annotations would provide a fuller measure of clarity/transparency. Thanks for the insight.

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