After the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States in 2017, several prominent Mexican scientists warned in the journal Science that the administration’s negative portrayal of Mexicans might have consequences not only in the social realm, but also in the academic world of science. They called for constructive solutions rather than travel bans, “to protect our joint scientific efforts” and “to defend academic freedom.” It was a short letter reaffirming the long-standing notion of internationalism in science, noting that collaboration between the United States and Mexico accounted for a third of more than 100,000 academic papers coauthored by Mexicans with foreign colleagues since the 1940s.1 I learned from the lead author, Antonio Lazcano, that this three-paragraph letter elicited several hundred supportive email replies from his colleagues around the world. Because of candidate Trump’s open dismissal of anthropogenic climate change as a hoax, many wondered whether as president he would take stances hostile to science. The events after the inauguration heightened such anxieties: the Twitter feed of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went unattended for a month, ending with the appointment as administrator of Scott Pruitt, an outspoken skeptic of anthropogenic climate change. New “rogue” Twitter accounts emerged to represent other governmental organizations such as the Department of the Interior and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), purporting to speak for concerned scientists working within them.2 Scientists at several universities, concerned about the fate of climate data in the new administration, began the work of “data rescue,” trying to find computer servers for the vast amounts of climate-related data generated under the auspices of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other bodies.3 It seemed that the administration was positioning itself to ignore scientific advice. In part this motivated the nationwide “March for Science” events and rallies planned for Earth Day, April 22, 2017. Were the developments of the early Trump administration truly antiscience? I suggest here that it may be more useful to consider them symptoms of contemporary American science, with its reliance on federal patronage and long-standing tensions about scientific access. The problem is neither new nor is it likely to go away when Trump is out of the White House. The critique by Lazcano et al. reminds us that scientists worry about the ease by which government policies can diminish access to partnerships, to data, and to collaboration. Similarly, the actions of the so-called rogue scientists—who anonymously broke the rules to speak out about climate change while the rest of the government was silent—remind us that scientific expertise, data, and activities can be held hostage behind closed institutional doors. Appeals to international cooperation and academic freedom are long-standing strategies among scientists navigating within the peculiar milieu of federal science funding in which the patron determines when the walls go up and when they come down. Such appeals have been rooted in anxiety, not about science per se, but about being shut out—by border control or security classification—or shut in by publication restrictions or by presidential mandates to remain silent. The problem of access often is amplified in the environmental sciences because they do not match the traditional justification for science funding. In the United States, patronage of science is focused on the linear model (to use academic shorthand), an imaginary progression between “basic” or “pure” research—that is, scientific work without political interference—and technological applications and economic growth. Its most well-known expression is contained in Vannevar Bush’s 1945 blueprint for postwar federal funding, Science:The Endless Frontier.4 Scholars have noted its blend of capitalistic imagery, presumption of science preceding technology, and its powerful conceptual hold over the scientific community. It was a view of science oriented toward making, building, producing, innovating, and curing.5 Although this view of federal support for science is remarkably bipartisan, it fits uneasily with important findings in science, particularly as they relate to health and environmental issues that are freighted with very different kinds of meaning. Rather than leading to economic growth or technological applications, they often point to the negative consequences of these. It is one reason Paul Sears referred to ecology as a subversive subject. “By its very nature,” he wrote in 1964, “ecology affords a continuing critique of man’s operations within the ecosystem.”6 The environmental sciences do indeed offer a continuing critique—on issues such as climate change, industrial pollution, chemical exposure, and many others. Nevertheless, despite funding an extraordinary amount of science relevant to environmental issues in the United States, there is no guarantee that the general public will have access to it. When scientific findings are at odds with a politician’s views, especially a president’s, it is all too easy to block access to the huge amounts of data for which citizens have paid in the past several decades. But this is not merely a product of our current political moment. The ability to erect walls between scientific information and the public has been a sacrosanct power of the federal government since World War II. Outsiders cannot always get in, and insiders cannot always speak out. Historically, the most significant justification for separating tax-funded scientific results or data from the general public has been national security. Much of the climate data at NOAA and NASA that today’s scientists worry about losing were collected for military and intelligence reasons, not to gather data about climate change. In the Cold War and beyond, the biggest employer of scientists was the federal government, and the US armed services in particular were the most well-funded and highly trained scientific-minded organizations on the planet, with logistical capabilities all over the world and instrumentation under the sea, within the earth, in the air, and in space. When the Cold War ended, in a euphoric political moment of valuing openness, Vice President Al Gore and CIA director Robert M. Gates convened leading scientists to assess what data might be declassified to broaden scientists’ understanding of major environmental processes. Led by Gordon MacDonald, the committee took the name “Medea,” after the character in ancient Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts. MacDonald and many other leading scientists had previously worked for the JASON advisory group to advise government, in secret, on military and other matters including climate change.7 The data provided under the Medea program were turned over by the Defense Intelligence Agency to NOAA and the US Geological Survey.8 Attempting to declassify such data for the public good, while laudable, should serve as a reminder that throughout the Cold War, much of the most important scientific data, even the kind most useful for understanding climate change, had been, proverbially, created behind closed doors and kept under lock and key. This remains true today. Scientific data have many uses—military, intelligence, industrial, and otherwise—and the patron controls access.9 In the case of the Medea data, opening it up required clearing some scientists (“not thousands, but tens were cleared”) to come into the CIA and Department of Defense “to see actually what kind of data we had and what kind of processes we used, and what kind of sensors we had.” As US Navy vice admiral Paul Gaffney said in 2007, it “brought incredibly strange people together.” The national security community had more global reach than anyone, certainly more than NOAA. “It has an incredible sweep, an incredible investment in sensors and computation… . There are thousands of people, more than half of them civilians with advanced degrees. And we have data. We have lots of data, raw data.” He said the declassifications during the Medea program “were quiet successes.” It led to the declassification of the Geodetic Satellite (GEOSAT) Altimetry Program, providing long time-series visual pictures from space of the same areas over twenty, thirty, even forty years. Similarly, it provided depth, temperature, and salinity measurements taken from submarines as they traversed the oceans over many decades.10 It is remarkable how easily just a handful of people have controlled access to the data so crucial to understanding climate change, a process affecting many billions of humans. Historians of science, myself included, have studied the ways operating in such classified settings throughout the Cold War affected the development and reception of scientific ideas.11 Limited access to data from the oceans, for example, is one of the reasons for the opposition to the concepts of seafloor spreading and plate tectonics in the late 1960s, particularly by scientists in the Soviet Union. Influential papers on the subject were drawn from classified data (virtually all of the decisive data came from the ocean floor) and were generated by scientists who either worked directly for naval laboratories or held some kind of classified security clearance. And yet these same scientists adhered to the conventional social dynamics of science, making them attuned to questions of scientific priority, that is, getting credit for their ideas and publishing them openly. While enjoying exclusive access to data, they invoked notions of openness and international collaboration when it came to publishing, claiming they had international reputations to maintain. The high-profile examples of international data sharing in the Cold War, such as the International Geophysical Year of 1957–58, were exceptions rather than the rule. Instead the more common practice was to seek approval from government authorities for publication of research, without making the data itself widely available. Those outside generally stayed outside.12 Those on the inside have wished to remain there. When oceanographer Roger Revelle was asked to become a scientific adviser to the US Committee for the Oceans (a political advocacy group), he declined. “I take a dim view of joining a lobby for any cause, no matter how worthy,” Revelle stated. “I feel I can act more effectively towards such worthy goals … by being an ‘objective’ advice-giver to politicians and bureaucrats, rather than being committed to a definite position.”13 That particular lobby, when formed in 1972, sought to influence the third convention on the law of the sea (what became UNCLOS III), and to prevent any unilateral US action that might limit the voice of less powerful coastal states.14 Revelle avoided taking a position on issues that would pit him against his patrons, and he also fell on a different side of this political issue. Like the US Navy, he was adamantly opposed to anything limiting American vessels’ access to other countries’ coastal waters. In the same letter he observed that “the most serious and frightening aspect of the ‘ocean grab’ that many nations seem to be making is the threat to free oceanographic research.” If national jurisdictions were to extend 200 miles offshore, as many smaller coastal states hoped, Revelle predicted darkly, “then oceanography as we have known it will be destroyed.”15 Scientists have feared being shut out—losing security clearance, ship time, lab time, and educational opportunities. That has made individuals vulnerable when their views were perceived to touch on politics. Even prominent scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer and E. U. Condon, both of whom advised against developing the hydrogen bomb in the late 1940s, found themselves under investigation as security risks. Whatever the merits of the case against him, Oppenheimer’s punishment was the nuclear scientist’s nightmare—not having his security clearance renewed. President Eisenhower’s imagery for how to treat Oppenheimer was telling: he ordered a “blank wall” erected between the scientist and any sensitive data.16 As Charles Thorpe has argued, officials’ actions against Oppenheimer might be interpreted as an effort at “disciplining experts” who overstepped their political bounds.17 Scientists by the early 1970s learned this lesson too. The Presidential Science Advisory Committee, which bucked norms in the early 1960s by refusing to criticize Rachel Carson’s denunciations of indiscriminate insecticide use, as published in Silent Spring, had rocky relationships with presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon on other issues. Some of them took the position that speaking out—and bringing science from the inside to the outside—was their duty, saying openly that the Vietnam war was unwinnable and the antiballistic missile system untenable. Nixon grew tired of their second-guessing his decisions and simply abolished the whole presidential science-advising apparatus.18 Government scientists certainly have tried to speak directly to the general public, but they have faced the full bureaucratic power of the federal government to prevent it. The EPA in the first years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency is infamous for this. Shortly after his inauguration, the president did not bother abolishing either the Council on Environmental Quality or the EPA, but instead he achieved the same result by starving them of funds. The acting chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality wrote in an internal memo that the president’s proposed budgets for 1981 and 1982 were making the council itself “a shadow of its former self.” It would be required to let thirty-one employees go (a 60 percent reduction), to halt all proposed contract studies, and to make it impossible to hire editorial experts, fact-checkers, and interns.19 Was Reagan antiscience? Certainly he was antiregulation, and he and other Republicans consistently called into question scientific consensus, as when scientists clamored for laws to limit industrial pollutants causing “acid rain” in some parts of the country. As Philip Shabecoff opined in the New York Times, “The agency is the same. The body of scientific knowledge upon which the policy determinations were made is essentially the same. And the acid rain is still acid. The only thing that changed is the Administration in charge.”20 Reagan built walls between federal scientific work and the general public, and he faced resistance from rank-and-file scientists who felt important information was being suppressed or ignored. In the early 1980s, scientists within the agency seemed to have gone “rogue,” to use the recent term, spending a lot of time at the photocopy machine and leaking information to reporters. It seems a fool’s errand to believe that becoming “pro-science” will resolve political conflicts. Instead we may need to reassess the reasons we, as taxpayers, support science at all. We may “march for science,” but we do so blindly when we continue to say that science’s social function is to provide building blocks for technological and economic progress. This is a view of science we inherited from the Cold War era, and while there is plenty of room in that for collecting environmental data, there is nothing in it that assigns value to environmental perspectives. Also, there is no sense that we have a basic right to see all the data, to know all the science, so we might act on it. We have not negotiated a new social contract that acknowledges the role of science in establishing limits, understanding harm, or constraining growth. It is no accident that while Trump, like Reagan before him, plans to starve the EPA and dismantle federal efforts in certain scientific fields, he has done the opposite in his defense budget, a realm in which it is quite easy to continue funding science while barring access to it. There the science will continue, done by thousands of sharp highly educated people who make their livings behind closed doors, embracing the view of science as defined in Science:The Endless Frontier, producing environmental data that, unfortunately, most of us never will see. Jacob Darwin Hamblinis professor of history at Oregon State University, where he directs the master's program in environmental arts and humanities. He is the author of Arming Mother Nature: the Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (Oxford University Press, 2013), Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (Rutgers University Press, 2008), and Oceanographers and the Cold War (Washington University Press, 2005). Notes 1. Antonio Lazcano, Adriana Ortiz Ortega, and Saúl Armendariz, “Mexican and U.S. Scientists: Partners,” Science 355, no. 6330 (March 17, 2017): 1139. 2. Steve Gorman, “Defying Trump, Twitter Feeds for U.S. Government Scientists Go Rogue,” Reuters.com, January 26, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-resist-idUSKBN15A0DI. 3. Amy Harmon, “Activists Rush to Save Government Science Data—If They Can Find It,” New York Times, March 6, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/06/science/donald-trump-data-rescue-science.html?_r=0. 4. Vannevar Bush, Science:The Endless Frontier (Washington, DC: National Science Foundation; repr. 1960). 5. For an extensive critique of the linear model as applied to American science policies in the latter twentieth century, see Daniel Sarewitz, Frontiers of Illusion: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Progress (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996). 6. Paul B. Sears, “Ecology: A Subversive Subject,” BioScience 14, no. 7 (1964): 11–13; quote, 13. 7. For an overview of MacDonald’s work, see oral history interview of Gordon MacDonald by James Rodger Fleming, March 21, 1994, American Institute of Physics, https://www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/32156. On the JASON group, see Ann Finkbeiner, The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite (New York: Penguin, 2006). 8. See comments by Vice Admiral Paul Gaffney (retired) in the transcript of the meeting, 50th Anniversary of the Global Carbon Dioxide Record, Symposium and Celebration, November 29–30, 2007, Kona, Hawaii, https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/co2conference/transcripts/day1_gaffney.pdf. 9. For an analysis of some of these uses, see David K. Van Keuren, “Cold War Science in Black and White: US Intelligence Gathering and Its Scientific Cover at the Naval Research Laboratory, 1948–1962,” Social Studies of Science 31, no. 2 (2001): 207–29. 10. See comments by Vice Admiral Paul Gaffney (retired) in the transcript of the meeting, 50th Anniversary of the Global Carbon Dioxide Record, Symposium and Celebration, November 29–30, 2007, Kona, Hawaii, https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/co2conference/transcripts/day1_gaffney.pdf. 11. For recent discussions of the strategic and scientific issues related to the earth sciences, see Simone Turchetti and Peder Roberts, eds., The Surveillance Imperative: Geosciences during the Cold War and Beyond (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 12. See Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Science in Isolation: American Marine Geophysics Research, 1950–1968,” Physics in Perspective 2, no. 3 (2000): 293–312. On international cooperation in the marine sciences, including classification issues, see Hamblin, Oceanographers and the Cold War (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005). 13. Roger Revelle to Nelson Marshall, February 2, 1973, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives, Papers of Roger Revelle, MC6, Box 19, folder 39. 14. Ralph B. Levering and Miriam Lindsey Levering, Citizen Action for Global Change: The Neptune Group and the Law of the Sea (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999). On their motivations vis-à-vis unilateral US policy, see p. 36. 15. Roger Revelle to Nelson Marshall, February 2, 1973, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives, Papers of Roger Revelle, MC6, Box 19, folder 39. 16. The “blank wall” comment is mentioned in William J. Broad, “Transcripts Kept Secret for 60 Years Bolster Defense of Oppenheimer’s Loyalty,” New York Times, October 11, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/12/us/transcripts-kept-secret-for-60-years-bolster-defense-of-oppenheimers-loyalty.html?_r=0. 17. Charles Thorpe, “Disciplining Experts: Scientific Authority and Liberal Democracy in the Oppenheimer Case,” Social Studies of Science 32, no. 4 (2002): 525–62. 18. On scientists’ ethical dilemmas when advising presidents, see Sarah Bridger, Scientists at War: The Ethics of Cold War Weapons Research (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015); on the President’s Science Advisory Committee’s unanticipated support for Rachel Carson, see Zuoyue Wang, In Sputnik’s Shadow: The President’s Science Advisory Committee and Cold War America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2009). 19. Malcolm Forbes Baldwin, Memorandum for Frank Hodsoll, March 12, 1981, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, “Boggs, Danny, OA 11477,” Box 15, folder “Environment—Council on Environmental Quality (1 of 3). 20. Philip Shabecoff, “Acid Rain Debate Tells as Much About Washington as Science,” New York Times, February 9, 1982, http://www.nytimes.com/1982/02/09/science/acid-rain-debate-tells-as-much-about-washington-as-science.html. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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