Trump should refrain from restraining science and research

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As the Trump administration’s curious embrace of “alternative facts” drew loads of media attention, less attention was being paid to the message it was sending to several federal agencies.

Stop releasing any facts.

Numerous reports chronicled directives to employees in the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, National Park Service and other agencies instructing them to halt release of studies, data, reports, news releases and other public information. They also were directed to decline media requests for information and interviews.

As criticism mounted, agency leaders began gradually backing away from those sweeping edicts. But not far enough. The Trump EPA’s top communications official told National Public Radio that climate scientists seeking to release their findings to the public must first have them reviewed to make sure they “reflect the voice of the new administration.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention canceled a long-planned summit on the public health implications of climate change. The cancellation was widely seen as a sign the CDC hoped to avoid running afoul of President Donald Trump, who has said climate change is “hoax.” More recently he said he is keeping an open mind.

The apparent information lockdown is deeply troubling. Every presidential administration seeks to control information. The Obama administration, for example, had a dismal record on transparency. But subjecting to political vetting the findings of scientists and experts studying critical issues is not normal or acceptable. It turns on its head the notion that we fund sound research with hopes that it will inform good public policy. Instead, it seems the new administration wants its preferred policies to dictate science.

You’d think a skeptical but open-minded president would want as much sound data and research as he can get on climate change and its potential effects. Averting its consequences for the nation’s national security, public safety and economic health would seem to fit with Trump’s pledge to put America first.

Putting a thumb on the scientific scales to please certain interests and ideologies isn’t patriotic. It could be catastrophic. Trump should instead pledge to have the most open and honest administration ever when it comes to science and research. Embrace facts, Mr. President. It’s your only alternative.

• Comments: (319) 398-8452; editorial@thegazette.com.

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