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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Inquisitor Trump Might Delete U. S. Global Warming Data

Galileo Faced the Inquisition.  In 1633, the astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei was summoned by the Catholic Church’s chief  Inquisitor, Father Vincenzo Maculano da Firenzuola, to begin his trial for heresy.  He faced the charge of promoting the notion, considered heretical by the Church, that the Earth revolves around the sun.  Church doctrine held that the universe was centered about the Earth, i.e., that the sun turned around our planet; this dogma was central to maintaining the religious authority of Church.  Even so, the earlier work of Copernicus and Kepler had already shown that the planets orbit the sun.

The Inquisition found that Galileo was “vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of [the] heresy…of having believed … the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world… and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”  His penalty included the “public edict [that his] book of Dialogues be prohibited, and [that] We condemn thee to the prison of this Holy Office….”

This history shows that the scientific results obtained by Galileo and his predecessors, which did not conform to the Church’s pre-ordained worldview, merited censorship of his work and his imprisonment.  He agreed not to promote his conclusions any longer, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

President Trump Erases Global Warming Web Pages.  Minutes after taking the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump’s White House expunged all references to global warming and climate change that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, had included on the White House web site. 

This censorship of science-based policy by the new administration scarcely differs from the Inquisition’s banning of Galileo’s Dialogues.  It may presage the imposition of the pre-ordained worldview of Trump and his retinue which denies global warming, instead of adopting science-based policies to address this critical issue.  We may wonder whether members of the Trump administration acknowledge that the sun is at the center of our solar system.

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 13, 2016  that climate scientists fear that the Trump administration will intentionally oversee the loss of decades worth of data documenting the progression of global warming and climate change.  These data sets have been accumulated by U. S. government scientists, and others whose research is supported by the U. S. government.  They currently reside on government computers and servers.  An interview with meteorologist Eric Holthaus on NPR’s program “All Things Considered” on Dec. 14, 2016 speculated on how the loss of this data might transpire: “across-the-board” budget cuts in climate science that could result in government scientists having to make difficult decisions on which data to maintain, and which to allow to lapse.

The U. S. government’s data are robust repositories of climate information; the resources used to acquire them include satellites and ocean-based buoys.  The resulting information is freely available to scientists the world over pursuing climate research and to officials developing climate policy.  If these fears materialize, not only may existing data be lost, but the ambition to continue climate observation by the U. S. may wane under the Trump administration.  It may reason that pressure to adopt policies fighting warming may be weaker in the absence of new information supporting the need for action.  (Similar reasoning presumably underlies Congress’s failure to fund gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1997.)

In response to this potential threat nongovernmental climate scientists are volunteering to copy existing databases onto other servers to ensure their preservation.   

A different U. S. agency policy facilitates access to research data. The potential loss of government-sponsored climate data as a result of policies under the Trump administration stands in stark contrast to information policies in effect at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 2003.  The U.S. government determined that it was in the interests of the public and the life sciences community that research data underlying published articles, supported by NIH funding, be made available to others.  The goals of the policy are copied here:

Data sharing allows scientists to expedite the translation of research results into knowledge, products, and procedures to improve human health.
“There are many reasons to share data from NIH-supported studies. Sharing data reinforces open scientific inquiry, encourages diversity of analysis and opinion, promotes new research, makes possible the testing of new or alternative hypotheses and methods of analysis, supports studies on data collection methods and measurement, facilitates the education of new researchers, enables the exploration of topics not envisioned by the initial investigators, and permits the creation of new datasets when data from multiple sources are combined.
“In NIH's view, all data should be considered for data sharing. Data should be made as widely and freely available as possible while safeguarding [privacy and confidentiality].” (Emphasis in original).

In summary, data obtained by NIH-supported research must be made public in order to promote scientific, technological and medical progress, i.e., for the public welfare. 

Climate data must be preserved.  The same principles apply to climate data now held on government computers and servers.  Public welfare is promoted by safeguarding existing climate data, and by making that information freely available to researchers worldwide. 

The incoming administration does not have the right to oversee loss of these climate databases. The information was gathered by federal scientists working in U. S. government agencies, which are supported by us, the taxpaying public. The data belong to us.  The potential loss of this information would constitute a harm to our welfare, since it would impede research on the causes and effects of global warming, to our detriment. 

President Trump and members of his administration are behaving like present-day climate inquisitors.  They do not accept the incontrovertible scientific evidence that global warming is happening and that human activity is largely responsible.  President Trump has called global warming a Chinese hoax, and has threatened to withdraw from the United Nations-sponsored climate accord reached in Paris in 2015.  Scott Pruitt, the designated administrator of the Environmental Protection Administration, has repeatedly sued the very agency he has now been nominated to lead while serving as Oklahoma’s Attorney General.   Secretary-designate of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has taken many anti-environmental positions in his earlier career.  The Economist (Jan. 21, 2017; p. 15) has classified other cabinet designees as “climate-change sceptics”: Vice President Mike Pence; Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; Rex Tillerson, Secretary-designate of State (disagreeing that climate change posed a national security risk); Rick Perry, Secretary-designate of Energy; Mike Pompeo, Director-designate of the Central Intelligence Agency; Steve Bannon, Chief strategist; and still others. 

The would-be inquisitors of the Trump administration cannot be permitted to destroy the public’s climate information.  Rather, the government should be protecting and using it beneficially to promulgate meaningful climate policies.
© 2017 Henry Auer

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