In the first days of his presidency, Donald Trump and his White House team sent an email directing about 2,000 scientists in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to suspend release of “public-facing documents,” including news releases and photos.” The ARS focuses on scientific research into the main issues facing agriculture, including long-term climate change. Trump has cast doubt on whether climate change is real and has railed against ex-President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat it. However, the next day officials at the Department of Agriculture said the order was “released without Departmental direction, and prior to Departmental guidance being issued,” Reuters reported.
The ban included, but was not limited to, press releases, blog posts, messages on Twitter and Facebook post, and all media requests were to be “screened” by the Administration.
These policies are not entirely new; President George W. Bush’s administration was infamous for limiting press access to federal scientists. The Trump Administration heralds the most radical shift in how the EPA uses science since the Reagan administration, which had a “hit-list” of scientists and sought to gut the agency from the inside.
The gag order on scientists received little media coverage and was widely unknown to the public in part because EPA employees were barred from talking about this change to reporters and on social media. Popular press coverage for the most part was limited to the climate change section of the White House official website being taken down. In a Business Insider article posted the week after the inauguration, Zack Colman reported: “The Trump administration’s attitude toward climate change and its willingness to embrace ‘alternative facts,’ as adviser Kellyanne Conway described them, explains why federal scientists and park rangers are going rogue, starting unofficial Twitter accounts denouncing the administration and planning their own march on Washington.” In addition, after this story attempted to reach the popular press, the department disavowed the memo sent to employees of the USDA.
Angela Chen, “Trump Silences Government Scientists with Gag Orders,” Verge, January 24, 2017, http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/24/14372940/trump-gag-order-epa-environmental-protection-agency-health-agriculture.
Ian Johnston, “Donald Trump Stopping US Government Scientists from Speaking Out Publicly is ‘Chilling,’” Independent, January 25, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-gag-us-government-scientists-environment-stop-speaking-public-tweeting-twitter-climate-a7544971.html.
Dina Maron, “Trump Administration Restricts News from Federal Scientists at USDA, EPA,” Scientific American, January 24, 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-administration-restricts-news-from-federal-scientists-at-usda-epa/.
Student Researcher: Bettina Cataldi (University of Vermont)
Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)