Alan Finkel warns that forcing EPA data to undergo political review before publication will cause long-term harm
Australias chief scientist has slammed Donald Trumps attempt to censor environmental data, saying the US presidents behaviour was comparable to the manipulation of science by the Soviet Union.
Speaking at a scientific roundtable in Canberra on Monday, Alan Finkel warned science was literally under attack in the United States and urged his colleagues to keep giving frank and fearless advice despite the political opposition.
The Trump administration has mandated that scientific data published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency from last week going forward has to undergo review by political appointees before that data can be published on the EPA website or elsewhere, he said.
It defies logic. It will almost certainly cause long-term harm. Its reminiscent of the censorship exerted by political officers in the old Soviet Union.
Every military commander there had a political officer second-guessing his decisions.
Last month Trumps administration mandated that any studies or data from scientists at the EPA undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public.
The communications director for Trumps transition team at the EPA, Doug Ericksen, said the review also extended to content on the federal agencys website, including details of scientific evidence showing the Earths climate was warming and human-induced carbon emissions were to blame.
Finkel compared the Trump administrations attempt to censor science to the behaviour of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Soviet agricultural science was held back for decades because of the ideology of Trofim Lysenko, who was a proponent of Lamarckism, he said.
Stalin loved Lysenkos conflation of science and Soviet philosophy and used his limitless power to ensure that Lysenkos unscientific ideas prevailed.
Lysenko believed that successive generations of crops could be improved by exposing them to the right environment, and so too could successive generations of soviet citizens be improved by exposing them to the right ideology.
So while Western scientists embraced evolution and genetics, Russian scientists who thought the same were sent to the gulag. Western crops flourished. Russian crops failed.
Today, the catch-cry of scientists must be frank and fearless advice, no matter the opinion of political commissars stationed at the US EPA, he said.
A day after the EPA was told to limit its public communications, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, added a layer of confusion to reports that the Trump administration had directed the communications crackdown.
Thats nothing thats coming from the White House, he told the press during his daily briefing. They havent been directed by us to do anything.
But his comments were at odds with statements made by Ericksen, who said the Trump administration was scrutinising studies or data published by scientists at the EPA, and new work was under a temporary hold before it could be released.
Finkel was appointed chief scientist by Malcolm Turnbull, replacing former chief scientist Prof Ian Chubb in December.
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