“When officials use a phrase like ‘alternative facts’ without embarrassment, you know there’s a problem,” physicist Rush Holt, CEO of the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science, said at a press briefing Thursday in Boston before the AAAS annual meeting.
“Ideological assertions have been crowding out evidence in public and private debates and in policy,” Holt told The Guardian. “People are truly troubled by what this means for the practice of science.”
Holt and other scientists expressed dismay at the Trump administration’s silencing of scientists working for the federal government, concerned that important legislation will be passed by politicians with little knowledge of actual facts. The silencing of many official channels has given birth to several “alternative” Twitter sites, such as RogueNASA and AltEPA, purporting to be the voice of truth from inside federal agencies.
Last month, a national alliance of government employees, including scientists, sent a letter to the president asking him to protect scientific integrity, warning that censoring science was a no-win situation with serious consequences for the environment.
Environmentalist and technology expert John Holdren, who was science adviser for the Obama administration, singled out the proposed “Secret Science” Reform Act, which aims to whittle down the power of the Environmental Protection Agency because the GOP claims its actions have been based on “biased, politicized science.”
“The bill is really an attempt to squelch … and intimidate climate scientists,” Holdren said.
AAAS President Barbara Schaal said in her conference speech that “the role of science is to speak truth to power.” The biologist also pointed out that good science relies on scientists crossing borders to share information.
Scientists at the AAAS conference will be addressing climate change and the effect of immigration restrictions on scientific knowledge, among other issues, and how to address their concerns in the Trump administration.
Physicist Neal Lane, science adviser in the Clinton administration, called on the community at large to “embrace and defend” scientists and science, adding: “It’s ugly and it’s getting uglier.”
Scientists and supporters are planning a March for Science April 22.