Many of President Donald Trump's words and actions have federal scientists worried their work will be politicized or suppressed. Now, one advocacy group is responding with a step-by-step guide for scientists to securely share information about any foul play.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, whose mission is to protect scientific integrity, has created a webpage for federal scientists to report abuses, with instructions on how to avoid detection or hacking.
Trump has called climate change a hoax, and one of his administration's first moves was to remove pages from the White House and State Department websites that referred to the issue. The Trump administration has sent memos and directives to agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service, that some employees reportedly interpreted as gag orders, though some of the directives were later reversed or disavowed.
"There have been a number of actions either proposed or taken by the transition team and the administration that make science more vulnerable to political interference," said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He said many of Trump's nominees are opposed to the missions of the agencies they would oversee. "When you have hostile agency appointees, science becomes more vulnerable to political influence. So I think all these conditions taken together make it more important for federal employees to report what they see."
Some scientists have considered Trump's actions as an assault on the profession and have begun reexamining their traditionally quiet political role. Hundreds of academics signed an open letter to Trump calling for action on climate change, and others are planning a march on Washington in April. Fearing regulatory rollbacks and science suppression, retired and former employees of the EPA are banding together in rare activism to defend colleagues still working for the agency and nurture whistleblowers, InsideClimate News reported.
On Tuesday, Republicans on the House Science Committee asked the EPA's inspector general to look at reports that agency employees were using the encrypted messaging app Signal to communicate with each other. The app is among the methods that the Union of Concerned Scientists recommends using to communicate securely.
Even before Trump took office, scientists began copying federal datasets they feared might be removed from public access.
UCS's new webpage encourages federal employees to "share any evidence of actions that impede the ability of science or scientists to protect public health and the environment," including memos, emails or "datasets or other information that has been altered or removed from public view."