DONALD Trump has done a lot of things that have unnerved me in his few short – and yet seemingly everlasting – weeks as US president.
From the travel ban on Muslims to the gag rule on family planning charities, it seems he’s always got another comic-book-villain-like scheme plotting beneath that orange mop of his.
But of all the controversial legislation that has been splashed across the headlines, there is one area that he has quietly been plugging away at since his inauguration that is probably the most unsettling.
In a seeming pursuit of the destruction of knowledge, President Trump has been slowly but surely disappearing scientific research from the annals of history.
An article in the The Guardian this week from Arctic researcher Victoria Herrmann really brought the point home for me.
Herrmann detailed the ever increasing “defunct links” that are appearing on climate research papers as essential reports and strategies are being deleted behind the scenes.
“The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes,” Herrmann woefully explains. And that was just on day one of Trump’s presidency.
Since then, the Arctic Institute, for which Herrmann is managing director, has witnessed an incessant march of deleting datasets, webpages and policies.
Sadly, Herrmann’s organisation is not the only group being targeted.
“Climate change data is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Eric Kansa, program director for the non-profit group Open Context. “There are a huge number of other datasets being threatened with cultural, historical, sociological information.”
In an attempt to suppress the flow of lost data, hackers have been working tirelessly since before the inauguration to secure valuable research that has taken literally decades to produce but that can be wiped out with the click of a mouse.
Targeting government websites, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the group of hackers, librarians, scientists and archivists are working on protecting any data sets or reports that they feel might be deleted, altered, or removed from the public domain by Trump’s administration.
Unfortunately, they are not able to get everything and, as Herrmann points out, valuable research is still being lost.
This denial of science and robbing of knowledge is what is truly scary. It may not have the attention grabbing photos of the travel ban or the heartstring-tugging stories of the immigration crackdown, but Trump’s apparent desire to delete knowledge is quietly chipping away at the very foundations of democracy.
By removing the data, the administration is robbing the people of the facts – something we so desperately need in this current political climate.
It will significantly hinder all future scientific research, causing progress to backslide and making new policy and legislation almost impossible to deliberate without the research to back it up. This leaves the administration free to do as they please.
With no data to prove them wrong, they can steamroll any legislation they see fit.
The problems the world faces will not go away by deleting the research, they will simply be ignored, and an ignorant public and embattled science community will be ill-equipped to do anything about it.
We should be warned, this approach of anti-intellectualism has been seen countless times throughout history. The burning of books, the murder of academics, the closing of universities – from Hitler and Stalin to Mao and Pol Pot – all served a role in quashing any democratic sentiment.
While Trump is no despot, the American people would do well to remember that there doesn’t need to be troops in the street, bombs falling from the skies and politicians being arrested for one’s liberty to be under threat – there’s more than one way to dismantle a democracy.