Sunday, February 5, 2017

Facts are Stubborn Things

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” -John Adams, lawyer, diplomat, statesman, political theorist, Founding Father, and Second President of the United States

A few days ago, the following simple statement of fact was deleted from the Twitter account of the Badlands National Park.

"The pre-industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93 ppm. Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years.”

Since Donald Trump’s election last November, scientists and researchers have been scrambling to download and mirror as much raw data and research results from Federally-funded web sites and public data sets as they could, because they feared what the new administration would try to do.

So, the deletion of this tweet seemed to confirm these fears. It was taken by many environmental activists, politicians, and federal employees as the first salvo in a campaign to suppress the dissemination of climate science information and related data by the new administration.

It was not hard to see why people would come to this conclusion, given statements by President Trump and his nominees, as well as his chief of staff, Reince Priebus who considers climate change “a bunch of bunk.”

After the new administration removed all mention of climate change from the White House and State Department web sites, froze the social media accounts at NASA, EPA, and the Department of Agriculture, and then stated its plans to remove climate change web pages from the EPA web site, the backlash was immediate.

The “Twitter rebellion” started when “alt” versions of official federal agency Twitter accounts, over 80 in all, started popping up, such as @AltUSNatParkService, @Rogue NASA, @ungaggedEPA, even @RogueDeptOfEducation. “@NOAA (uncensored)” described itself as the “Unofficial ‘resistance’ group for NOAA. We are dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment.”

The backlash and media attention garnered by the Trump administration’s actions have, ironically, made EPA’s climate change pages extremely popular in the last two weeks.

The Washington Post reported that “ has had a 2,700 percent increase in visitors in the five days since the inauguration, as compared with the five days before. Similarly, the agency's climate change research page has had a 500 percent increase in visitors.”

Another result is that plans to remove climate change web pages from the EPA web site have since been scrubbed, according to the Post.

There seems to be nothing that makes something more popular than telling folks that it will soon be unavailable. I am happy to report that apparently, this goes for facts, as well.

There has been a lot of discussion about how we are now living in a “post-fact” era or that there is such a thing as “alternative facts.”

Well, maybe not so fast. Facts still matter. I am very heartened that there are people in our government who are adamant in their defense of facts, in their defense of basic data.

I think it is bizarre in the extreme that anyone would think that making these facts unavailable will change anything.

Melting glaciers will not refreeze. The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere will not decline by 40%. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events will not suddenly decrease. Coastal sunny day flooding will not stop. The global increase in temperatures will not reverse. Cities and states will not suddenly stop planning for rising seas and extreme weather.

Facts still matter.

Facts are stubborn things.

Published in the Westborough News, February 3rd, 2017