The Trump Administration is gagging science and we are next

Jan 24 2017 Published by under Science Politics

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been told to stop funding grants and stop talking about scientific findings. Via Reuters:

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily halt all contracts, grants and interagency agreements pending a review, according to sources.

The White House sent a letter to the EPA's Office of Administration and Resources Management ordering the freeze on Monday, an EPA staffer told Reuters. "Basically no money moving anywhere until they can take a look," the staffer said, asking not to be named.

Via The Verge:

Also, employees have been banned from providing updates to reporters or on social media. The internal memo specifies that no press releases will go out to external audiences, there will be “no blog messages” and media requests will be carefully screened.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been told not to talk about their science. Via Buzzfeed News:

According to an email sent Monday morning and obtained by BuzzFeed News, the department told staff — including some 2,000 scientists — at the agency’s main in-house research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), to stop communicating with the public about taxpayer-funded work.

“Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents,” Sharon Drumm, chief of staff for ARS, wrote in a department-wide email shared with BuzzFeed News.

“This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content,” she added.

I'm sure I do not need to lead you by the hand to realize that this is a political putsch directed against scientific entities that tend to relate data that is discordant with Republican worldviews and preferred policies.

This is just the beginning. Each successful gag/intimidation will just fuel the next one.

NIH and NSF, dear to many in my audience, are most assuredly next, people. I hope not too many of you are counting on grant awards that are due to be issued in the next, oh, six months or so. Especially if you work on scientific questions that the Republicans have attacked before. Such as HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, mental health, LGBT issues, anything to do with family structure or dynamics, much of psychology and sociology, etc. And lord help you if you work with obviously ridiculous models such as fruit flies or obviously ridiculous therapies, like exercise.

__
Additional:
How would you like some posturing Congress Critter to de-fund your grant?

50 responses so far

  • Dave says:

    Word. Wishing everyone here good luck.

  • Chall says:

    I wonder how they will handle "cancer research" since it's driven/linked with the stem cell issue and "how does it happen". I'm sure, considering Rep Marsha Blackburn R-TN committee that most of this will be stopped. Like alzeimers and Parkinson's. Maybe someone can point to the value of this research to there republicans who want to cull it all. Oil doesn't cure cancer, fossil fuel will not cure children etc.....

  • Ugh. Remember last year when people were saying tenure is outmoded job security, because academic freedom is not really at risk?

  • sel says:

    I've got a pending NSF grant renewal on unsexy obscure magnetic alloys. Guessing that's doomed.
    "F**king magnets; how do they work?!?" --Insane Trump Posse

  • baltogirl says:

    I ripped out and sent Obama's excellent article in the latest issue of Science on the need for clean energy to the new president, with the polite suggestion that he read it.
    I don't expect a response, but I hope people will flood his mailroom with this kind of stuff.
    And sometime, somehow, we have to organize bigger and multiple lobbies for science on Capitol Hill.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    I have a federally funded grant that has already been affected by this new political wave that has me contemplating giving up the project all together even though it was going to be one of my main lines of research moving forward. I also work in cancer which I think will be fine because of the Moonshot program . . .

  • Nothing like transitioning from sub-10% success rates to annihilation! I can't wait to get my "Approved Pamphlet of Alt-Facts"

  • fjordmaster says:

    Responsible journalists have their hands full with this administration.

    While Trump waves catnip at them, like blatantly lying about crowd sizes, I really hope important stories like this get the coverage they deserve.

  • Natalie Herr says:

    do we know if anything like this has happened before (here in the US, anyway!)?

  • Philapodia says:

    I have a sinking feeling that riff-raff who complain too loudly run the risk of being black-balled by this new regime. We've already seen that the guy at the top has a vindictive streak and that the ruling party is more interested in ideological purity than the truth. It's not a stretch to imagine that a scientist that complains too loudly may be shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to NOA time.

  • drugmonkey says:

    you mean me, Philapodia?

  • odyssey says:

    Trump's gag orders also mean his minions will be filtering info from those agencies before it's made available to our congress critters. Think about that for a minute or two.

  • EPJ says:

    I don't understand why you don't want to pay attention to comments that are relevant to your actual work and living sustainability.

    I have mentioned money and the huge trouble the country is in, in spite of all the actual effort and productivity, the time spent, the sacrifices made in so many ways. And that on top of all that the more the money circulates the worst the debt gets, and that translates (as in science) in debt-slavery.

    I even asked about what you knew about it, urged you to go and spend a brief time looking up in the many articles written or made into video to grasp the 'bottom line' idea about money and economic system and to use the skill of analyses to contribute with well-grounded ideas so that science could go on.

    And now you just make a reference to political sides?

  • Jmz4 says:

    @EPJ, your posts are difficult to follow, to state it in the most cordial way. The ideas are probably very clear in your head, but they are not coming across, at least in my reading of your comments.

    To the general topic, I expect another round of funding pileup on things that are uncontroversial. Probably more BRAIN-type stuff, and a continued buildup of research on things that affect old white men (i.e. AlzheimerS and Cancer).

  • Ola says:

    Scary AF that's for sure.

    My guess would be the complimentary medicine gambit implemented by Collins will be first to go, followed closely by NIGMS. Maybe the big killer disease institutes (NCI, NIDDK, NHLBI) will fare slightly better? And as you say, anything on model organisms out the door.

    If you live in a red state - part of me really wants to say screw you, for not working hard enough to stop this fucker from being elected. I'm guessing nobody with the intelligence level to read this blog actually voted for him, but if you did, screw you!

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    First NSF recommended for funding by PO (model organism, basic research). Supposed to start around Feb. 1. Status still pending and no updates from PO. Sweating balls.

  • JL says:

    " I hope not too many of you are counting on grant awards that are due to be issued in the next, oh, six months or so." Why do you exclude non-competitive renewals from the chopping block?

  • KM says:

    Any thoughts on how this may affect MSTP program funding through NIGMS? I believe that funding is "guaranteed" once you are accepted to a program, but wonder if this could impact incoming 2017 students and beyond, especially at schools looking to renew their T-32 status.

  • jojo says:

    NSF DEB... let's see...

    Ecosystem Science Cluster (ES) & Population and Community Ecology Cluster (PCE) = "Crazy Fringe Environmentalism"

    Evolutionary Processes Cluster (EP) = "Evolution is just alternative facts"

    Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster (SBS) = "Evolution AND Crazy Fringe Environmentalism? This is the first to go."

    Yeah we're f'd...

  • Philapodia says:

    @DM
    Not you specifically, unless you're as vocal IRL as you are here. I'm sure that many of us would love to write letter after letter to our congress critters and raise holy hell on social media and twitter IRL about what is going on, but are nervous to do so when our livelihoods are so dependent on grants and contracts. This is especially dangerous for soft-money folks with little institutional support. Piss off the wrong person, and you could end up losing your job. May be a tad paranoid, but on the other hand it's a scenario that seems much more plausible now than a few months ago.

    @JMZ4
    You are being very polite, good on you, Mate.

  • chall says:

    Jmz4>
    Alzheimer research is a lot using neurons and cell lines that have origins where a lot of the R people don't like. Same with using stem cells and in some cases even iPSCs. It's gotten increasingly harder to get this type of research even approved, never mind funded, last couple of years. Also on a state level so I doubt there will be too difficult for federal govenment to cull the programs.... let's hope I'm wrong. I want to be wrong, trust me.

  • jipkin says:

    it's worth reading this article:

    http://thehill.com/policy/finance/314991-trump-team-prepares-dramatic-cuts

    along with the Heritage Fdn white paper which they're working from:

    http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2016/02/a-blueprint-for-balance-a-federal-budget-for-2017 (link to pdf: http://thf-reports.s3.amazonaws.com/2016/BlueprintforBalance.pdf )

    A lot in there will presumably not make it into the budget proposal (all the free trade stuff) but a lot probably will. All non-kill-stuff research at DoD is gone. The Department of Energy is going to be gutted. (As will EPA). HHS emerges relatively unscathed, for now.

  • AnotherEstablishedPI says:

    Could everyone please hold steady at the helm? All these same things happened when Reagan took office in 1981 as well. For a significant period of time after he took office everyone was told "NSF is defunct". I had to delay the submission of my NSF predoctoral grant for a year as a result. And we already had a stem cell debacle when Bush took office. As long as there are right-wing nuts lurking in the woodwork, these cycles will continue to happen. Just keep writing your legislators and, especially, help your preferred scientific association (ASCB, ASBMB, S4N, etc) lobby on the hill. Many of our scientific societies ALREADY lobby extensively. One of the reasons ASCB meets every other year in Washington, DC is to facilitate lobbying. It is not "dangerous" to lobby for support for scientific research and uncensored dissemination of research paid for by the taxpayers. In fact, it is extremely important to do so. And, scientists have already been doing it for a long time. Those with the attitude that it is dangerous to write your congresspeople should re-think that attitude. Twitter, which is easily mis-interpreted, is probably not your best venue. But directly, politely and soberly contacting your congress people (like baltogirl above) should be encouraged. Ask your scientific societies what they advise - they will get their wheels turning soon and your participation will be needed.

  • bacillus says:

    Here in the frozen North gag orders on scientists were only recently rescinded after the party that instigated them got well and truly trounced in the last election. It is very possible to cause irreparable damage to science -based government agencies in a four year time span, but not enough to kill them off completely. However, to put right the damage at my place of work would require at least 10 years and oodles of money to accomplish. Most of us just don't have it in us any longer to attempt this. The problem will be that the closures of gov't institutes like mine will occur under the watch of the incumbents, letting the villains of the piece off scot-free. Our universities fared better, primarily because they weren't doing policy-related research, a large part of the raison d'etre of many government science based agencies. I often think that science has been the victim of its own success, and that only a major global pandemic with something extremely lethal even to rich old privileged white guys might actually be necessary to re-establish the utility of science. Good luck to all of you.

  • David says:

    Not my favorite source to quote, but this is really scary to me: "The plan further calls for a change in how the EPA uses science and calls for the agency to stop funding scientific research over conflicts-of-interest concerns that the regulator should not also be involved with funding the science behind the regulations." [http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/24/politics/trump-has-epa-on-notice/index.html]

    While this may only apply to the EPA at this time, the same "logic" could be imposed to all US regulatory agencies.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Chall

    The issues with stem cells have already expanded beyond their intended realm with new laws in many states going into effect last year that have now banned either the purchase or use of any cell type from fetal tissues. Despite the fact that many companies act as the intermediates and isolate epithelial cells, fibroblasts, etc. (as opposed to the researcher), you effectively cannot use them anymore.

  • imager says:

    Horrifying and deeply disturbing, many similarities to 1933 and later in my country of birth (and other citizenship). Though, I wonder if I can now state alternate facts in my grant applications (there is an alternate fact band on the gel that proves my hypothesis quite clearly... - points to the loading control)

  • UCProf says:

    I can't believe everyone is freaking out about President Trump. Relax. He may be crazy, but he has little control over domestic spending. Congress does that.

    NIH funding has wide support in Congress. There's no way it would see a big cut. You know the 90's doubling of the NIH budget was a republican thing, right? Newt Gingrich wrote an oped in the NY Times a year or two ago saying they should double it again.

  • jmz4 says:

    @UC prof, yes, but many Congressional Republicans (Darrell Issa, first and foremost) don't seem to have a problem asserting that they should be the ones to direct how and where the money is spent.

    That's what's seen the increase in Alzheimer's research funds to the point that the POs are basically begging their people to try to make an aim about Alzheimer's so they can fund it with that money. That's what leads to the cancer moonshot and BRAIN initiatives.

    Along with fetal tissue bans (and de facto bans by defunding the sources of the tissue), it isn't wrong to be worried about where Trump will take science.

    Especially given that his proposed budget director takes a very dim view of federal research spending, and doesn't seem to understand the point of it (e.g. Scientists aren't sure Zika is causing these birth defects, so why do we need to study it?)

    People aren't wrong to worry about the politicization of science.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    You know the 90's doubling of the NIH budget was a republican thing, right?

    I wish that support for NIH and NSF (and "intellectualism" in general) was bipartisan. However, there are many recently-elected (Tea Party) Republicans that likely would have opposed the NIH doubling. I'm glad that Newt Gingrich wrote that OpEd, but he has little sway with those anti-establishment Republicans. Anti-science rhetoric has increased, and disturbingly includes the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @UCProf

    NSF has been told that grants selected for funding have to be within the interests of the administration. While we don't know exactly what that will mean, one could imagine that a top scoring grant on global warming may not be funded.

    So, I have a question for those of you who know the inner workings of research funding at the federal level. A President can say and do whatever he/she wants, but as UCProf pointed out, Congress controls the amount of funding which I would imagine would be some form of checks and balances. But when an administration communicates to funding agencies that they want an emphasis on certain areas, where are the checks and balances for that? Or do they simply have to do what they are told? What are the conversations like with the heads of NIH, NSF, etc. with administrations regarding proposed changes?

  • 5th year PI says:

    I'm terrified that some funny business is going to happen to my 8th percentile R01. It received expedited council review and the ERA Commons status has said "award prepared" for about a month now. My PO is giving me non-committal answers. It just seems very weird.

    Also, can anyone tell me what scientific societies do the most lobbying? My department will pay for society memberships, so I might as well choose a few good ones to support with some membership dollars.

  • UCProf says:

    @Emaderton

    > NSF has been told that grants selected for funding have to be within the interests of the administration.

    Not sure where you heard that, but I bet it isn't true. Well, I guess it depends on who told who what.

    The NSF is an independent federal agency. They just have to report to the Director of NSF and the Science Board. They have more leeway then NIH, which reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. It's conceivable that the Secretary of HHS would tell the director of NIH something and the director of NIH could force an institute director to make a particular decision on a particular grant.

    That just can't happen at NSF, because of the way its structured.

    The danger at NSF is with the social sciences, particularly political science. There;s been republican rumblings in congress for quite a while that funding the social sciences is just a waste of money.

    @5thyear PI
    The big science lobbying groups in Wash DC are probably FASEB and Research!America. You wouldn't join these thought. FASEB is sponsored by a group of like 30 scientific, societies, you would join one of those.

    The FASEB directory search is a tool you should bookmark. It searches like 30 scientific societies, so you can see what your friends and enemies hang out
    http://www.faseb.org/Directory-of-Members/Search-for-Individual-Members.aspx

  • jmz4 says:

    @ UC prof. I think he was thinking of the passages in HR1806 ("America Competes Act") and HR 3293 “Scientific Research in the National Interest Act”

    HR1806: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1806

    "(Sec. 106) Directs the NSF to award federal funding for basic research and education in the sciences through a new research grant or cooperative agreement only if it makes an affirmative determination, justified in writing, that the grant or agreement promotes the progress of science in the United States, is worthy of federal funding, and meets certain other criteria."
    Not quite the same.

    However HR 3293: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3293/text

    States that:
    " A determination referred to in subsection (a) is a justification by the responsible Foundation official as to how the research grant or cooperative agreement promotes the progress of science in the United States, consistent with the Foundation mission as established in the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.), and further—

    (1) is worthy of Federal funding;

    (2) is consistent with established and widely accepted scientific methods applicable to the field of study of exploration;

    (3) is consistent with the definition of basic research as it applies to the purpose and field of study; and

    (4) is in the national interest, as indicated by having the potential to achieve—

    (A) increased economic competitiveness in the United States;

    (B) advancement of the health and welfare of the American public;

    (C) development of an American STEM workforce, including computer science and information technology sectors, that is globally competitive;

    (D) increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology in the United States;

    (E) increased partnerships between academia and industry in the United States;

    (F) support for the national defense of the United States; or

    (G) promotion of the progress of science for the United States."

    As far as I know, neither of these passed, as the reauthorization of funding and certain aspects were merged into S.3084 - American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, (the Senate version) which just went into effect this month. I could find no language restricting or compelling the director to make funding determinations based on administrative priorities: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/3084/text

  • Emaderton3 says:

    I believe I have relied on alternative facts and have jumped the gun. However, some believe the inclusion of wording such as "national interest" will allow the Republicans to essentially change how NSF and other agencies make funding decisions. But, it is too early to tell what will come of all this . . .

  • jmz4 says:

    @Emaderton
    One thing that I think has been surprising to many people in the Trump era is how few of the things we take for granted are enshrined in law, rather than just norms of our democracy that require respectful actors participating in good faith to uphold.

    I was raised by lawyers, so I always knew that the law has a large amount of flexibility and discretion in the application of the law, but I think a lot of people are coming away from this last week feeling like legal protections they had taken for granted (but didn't really have) are being stripped away from them.

    In reality Trump is just demonstrating why "the system" exists in the first place. We'll see who wins.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I'm not sure how anyone is still under such a rock after seeing the Bush administration use torture, get away with it at the time, face no significant opposition from Republicans and pay no price after the fact when everyone suddenly remembered torture doesn't work and they were against it all along.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @jmz He can demonstrate how and why the system is the way it is, but when will it be challenged?

    And what is the legality regarding if we march for science? How will that be viewed by our universities at an individual level?

  • EPJ says:

    @DM

    I don't agree with torture, so people must ask themselves why it is been used, and what are the best solutions to what is leading to such situations. What are the current problems that we find everyday by now a long time.

    @jmz4 and emarderton3

    Any organized society should have laws and knowledgeable on the subject, but what we find widespread, though better lately, is exactly disrespect of the law, even from those that work in the system. That is illogical, and the explanation cannot be that is political, because that would imply that you have blue and red people, 2 separate species that are different from a human. You can have different cultures, races, nations, wealth and educated status, age and gender differences and habits/behavior, but all are humans that share somethings, included interests.

    Whatever has happened can no longer be explained, and solved, by the same approaches or belief.

    We, people and humans in general, don't have to be going through these situation. Because there has been real progress through decades and centuries of real effort and productivity/success in many ways different from what we may actually know.

    So how come we have all these overload of petty problems? search within your being and your life and your surroundings and you'll see increasingly clear.

    But the big question is how we make a better society?

  • Emaderton3 says:

    We don't roll back 50 years of progress to make things better.

    Our own intelligence has shown that less aggressive tactics have led to more information and not the opposite.

    Let's use science and data to decide. Let's not universally decree something without understanding whether it even works. We know many things do and don't work. For example, we know if we teach sex ed that we have less unwanted pregnancies and abortions as opposed to just abstinence only programs. That may be a harsh reality for some, but ultimately the end result is what everyone wants. Just like we know that a funded Planned Parenthood provides people services to catch cancers earlier and provide birth control that reduces unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Both can reduce expenditures. I need to check to find data, but I have been told that expanded healthcare (ACA) has had a similar effect.

    Let's evaluate whether a wall would be feasible and even work before we commit billions to something that may be a waste of money. Fences were put up in the past that were not very effective. Even border patrol leaders and Texas government officials say it is not a sound economic decision and will not produce the desired result.

    I may not agree with much of what is going on, but if someone wants to even dare to try to convince me that any of these plans are warranted, then provide data and facts to show that it may work.

  • Bagger Vance says:

    Has anyone bothered to go back and get an update on this? Maybe something like:

    "The Gag Order That Wasn’t: The media created a false firestorm about the Trump administration at a time when America could use more truth."

    The problem is that the gag-order story – like a lot of news stories these days – is really a mischaracterization. Here's the reality. These memos, which were portrayed by the press as unprecedented control over agency communications, are actually standard procedure for whenever we have a new administration. Having lived in Washington through four administration transitions, (which makes me feel really old), I can assure you, this is a normal state of affairs. " (link below)

    That's from USNews&WorldReport, so maybe some of you will even think that that's not just me and my crazy Breitbart & Infowars-only information.

    DM is (not for the first time) happy to jump on a pre-spun narrative, throw some gasoline on the fire, then wait for our houses to get burned. Bonus points for "Republicans hate science", certainly wouldn't want anyone to think we're a non-partisan funding opportunity.

  • Philapodia says:

    ^Written by a republican opinion writer/lobbyist who "lived in Washington", not an actual political reporter or EPA staffer who would know what is actually normal.

  • Bagger Vance says:

    Ah, the drive to de-legitimize never slows, i see. "That one doesn't count, because someone complained, and they're a REAL twitter account with REAL science behind them. QED".

    Has anyone bothered to mention that you all lost the election? The election is over, and the winner was not Clinton. Just not sure that's sunk in yet.

    Btw, bonus points for use of loaded term "putsch", i wonder what that could possibly be in reference to, and also for a lot of links to statements circa the 2008 election. The idea that you could have been using the last two terms to build bridges and de-polarize science funding seems, now, as hopelessly out of date as your Palin complaints.

  • jmz4 says:

    @Philapodia,
    The USDA memo, at least, seems to have been pretty much cribbed from Vilsack's memo from 8 years ago, so I do think Bagger Vance has a point here. This was an over-reaction.

    But to BV's point, you can't blame all the hue and cry on the media for a couple reasons. One, the Administration is directing changes at the EPA (taking down the climate sites), while the "gag" is in place, which kinda defeats the purpose (which is to put a pause on everything to let everyone settle in before engaging the press). Secondly, as a result, their teams were not in place and were atrociously slow (2 whole days) in responding to reporters asking for comment. They gotta up their press game or this is going to happen to them all year. Thirdly, when the EPA transition team spokesman (Doug Erikson) finally did speak up, he didn't clarify that this was a normal part of the transition process, and seemed to suggest that the agency would be introducing more aggressive review of scientific information by political appointees than was previously the case.

    @Emaderaton "@jmz He can demonstrate how and why the system is the way it is, but when will it be challenged?"
    -I'd argue that Trump is the challenge to the system. That's why he won, because he pissed off all the people in charge, and that just made his voters like him more. If Trump succeeds, it will show that the elites in charge didn't really know what they were doing. My guess is that career politicians and bureaucrats (the tools of the system) do have some valuable skills that Trump will find difficult to replace.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @jmz @Bagger Vance

    Yes, now that more information is coming out, it does look like some actions taken by 45 are similar to what has occurred in the past regarding these agencies. But, I think there is still concern with the larger picture since some of the beliefs of this administration seem to be in stark contrast to those of these agencies. And perhaps that has always been the case when there is a power shift, but it seems much more prominent this time and in your face.

    My poorly written sentence was in regards to challenging the current administration in their strategies which obviously is happening now. When was the last time there was this much outrage on multiple fronts? I know past Presidents have dealt with extreme criticism, demonstrations, etc., but has it been on so many different topics at the same time over such a short time? After only one week, regretful voters are popping up. Maybe it is just the immediacy of social media and our constant news coverage, but it does feel different . . .

  • jmz4 says:

    "When was the last time there was this much outrage on multiple fronts? "
    -I dunno, I imagine being a tea partier in 2012 or a proto-Tea partier in 2008 was probably roughly similar at the emotional level. Things weren't as silo'd though, so that probably didn't translate quite the same in terms of the intensity of the outrage.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @jmz4

    So, let's discuss the latest votes. I will refrain from jumping to conclusions, but we are now in favor of the mentally ill bearing arms and pollution of streams for coal mines.

    I advocated for data, so I will play the game. What are the statistics for each in terms of harm to others and downstream pollution having negative effects?

    I am not saying you or for or against, but you seem to have a level head. So, I have an open mind . . .

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