Data Disagreement: Make it Disappear

Academic Freedom, Advocacy, Information Access

By: Frederic Murray

Whereas the exponential growth in the use of disinformation and media manipulation constitutes a critical problem facing our society and includes: The suppression or removal of scientific studies and data that disagree with possible policy positions, for example, the human effects on climate change. 

American Library Association, Resolution on Access to Accurate Information, January 24, 2017

 Nikolay Vavilov (1887- 1943) was a seed collector, a botanist and a man of sterling reputation. As a Soviet scientist, he traversed the mountains, jungles and the arid plateaus of Afghanistan, Abyssinia, China, Central and South America. He was welcomed, and invited, into the botanical laboratories of Cambridge, and the experimental greenhouses’ run by the United States Department of Agriculture. His goal was to develop drought-resistant, high-yield cereal crops that would bring an end to famine. His tool was the application and insights of Mendelian genetics. Instead, he died of starvation imprisoned by the Soviet Gulag.

Vavilov’s view of science was unacceptable to Stalin, and his position, as a leading scientist, erased by Trofim Lysenko. Lysenkoism, as a term, is generally understood in our time to mean the manipulation of science for political purposes. Lysenko was a hack, who believed that acquired characteristics can be inherited. This idea has been demonstrated time and again to be patently false in the world of science, although politically there may be something to it.

The suppression of research and teaching exists in our nation in the areas of gun control, evolution and climate change. This suppression see-saws back and forth at Federal and State levels, dependent on who holds the political reins of power. It needs to stop.

In 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13505:

For the past eight years, the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to fund and conduct human embryonic stem cell research has been limited by presidential actions. The purpose of this order is to remove these limitations on scientific inquiry, to expand NIH support for the exploration of human stem cell research, and in so doing to enhance the contribution of America’s scientists to important new discoveries and new therapies for the benefit of humankind.

In 2013, another corrective action by President Obama was taken, when Congressional suppression on research, relating to gun violence, reached obscene levels in the wake of the Sandy Hook School shootings. Although a ban on research was lifted, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the restoration of funding was, and has been, repeatedly blocked. Worse yet, a culture of fear has spread, enabling this suppression. Who after-all is willing to end their career in a politicized environment on a topic deemed too toxic to fund?

Scott Walker's Wisconsin continues to scrub its websites of climate change mentions. 2017. BoingBoing. By Corey Walker. Web. 30 Mar. 2017. . Image Cropped/Renamed CC BY-NC-SA 3.0Under the administration of Gov. Scott Walker, the Wisconsin state’s Department of Natural Resources website has been heavily redacted, and mention of Climate Change removed. The “controversy” of climate change remains. A not-so-subtle tactic in the suppression of information.  Wisconsin shares more than 1,000 miles of coastline with Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Increased evaporation and lower lake water due to decreased snow melt and ice cover will have economic, biological, and social consequences that the state now has no real way of determining.

At the EPA’s website of the Office of Science and Technology, the word science has been removed from its mission statement. At the University Of California San Diego, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, scientists are voicing their concerns about their ability to do their jobs threatened with draconian budget cuts at the Federal level, and the specter of vanishing data sets in Federal repositories. Neither has become a reality, but awareness and action are needed on both fronts.

The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) is an indispensable resource. As a fairly new network of concerned academics and non-profits, they are building  online toolsevents and research networks to protect and archive scientific information primarily related to environmental data. They can be followed via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Trofim Lysenko was made the director of the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences in the USSR in 1940, a position he held until 1964. To the very end, he denied the existence of genes. Loss of political support and overwhelming scientific evidence led to his ouster in 1965.  His name is now synonymous with quackery and servility.


 

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 frederic.murray@swosu.edu

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