TS Picks: Trump’s First Week in Office

Gag orders at key science agencies were reportedly given, rescinded, and denied. Meanwhile, scientists say they are organizing a march on Washington. 

Joshua A. Krisch
Jan 25, 2017


Selections from The Scientist’s reading list:

  • Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) informed staff at both agencies that they were not permitted to speak with reporters or discuss research projects as of Monday, Scientific American reported. Employees at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received similar instructions, according to Science. It’s possible that the guidance is “a normal thing that happens in any transition period,” Benjamin Corb, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s director of public affairs, told Science. “But we want to make sure federally funded science agencies are able to carry out their mission without political interference.”
  • Hours after the gag orders were reported, and only days after the National Park Service was forced to shut down its social media activity, someone posting to the Twitter account for Badlands National Park in South Dakota began tweeting random science facts, CBS News reported. “The messages were short-lived,” CBS noted—the posts were swiftly deleted.
  • By Tuesday evening, the USDA had lifted its gag order, according to BuzzFeed. In a statement sent to Reuters, the agency disavowed the gag order and clarified that it was part of a misunderstanding. “The internal email was released without Departmental direction, and prior to Departmental guidance being issued,” the agency wrote. On Wednesday, a Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson denied reports of a gag order at the department. “Contrary to erroneous media reports, HHS and its agencies continue to communicate fully about its work through all of its regular communication channels with the public, the media and other relevant audiences,” Bill Hall, HHS’s acting deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, told BioCentury. “There is no directive to do otherwise.”
  • President Donald Trump signed a federal hiring freeze this week. Although the freeze will not affect those deemed necessary for public health, there is some concern that it could further cripple Veteran’s Affairs, according to NPR. Meanwhile, some non-exempt researchers will have to put their careers on hold until the freeze is lifted. “Lab member got offer for dream job @USDA last week,” Julie Pfeiffer, who studies viral pathology at the University of Texas Southwestern tweeted on January 24. “Job was frozen yesterday. Unbelievable. Major limbo for him/us, but #science continues!”
  • There was a glimmer of hope for science this week, when the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Director-candidate Tom Price rejected the claim that vaccines are linked to autism. Price did so before the Senate finance committee, STAT News reported. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) asked whether, if confirmed to lead HHS, Price would “swiftly and unequivocally debunk false claims.” Price replied: “What I’ll commit to doing is the due diligence.” Menendez added: “Dictated by science, I would hope.” To which Price replied: “Without a doubt.”
  • Scientists are organizing a march on Washington, DC, according to The Washington Post. The group has already organized a subreddit with more than 5,000 subscribers, as well as launched a website and social media accounts. “Although this will start with a march, we hope to use this as a starting point to take a stand for science in politics,” the organizers state on the site. “There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.” The date of the march has yet to be announced.