United States scientists have launched what the Washington Post is calling a “feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference” before the Trump administration takes office, and a team at the University of Toronto is taking a supporting role in the effort.
Data specialists participating in a “guerrilla archiving event” at the U of T this weekend will be downloading precious public data to back-up systems, while scientists at the University of Pennsylvania meet with Open Data Philly and software company Azavea to figure out how much federal data they can safeguard in the weeks remaining before Donald Trump and his cabinet full of climate deniers take office January 20.
The Post identifies a few catalysts for the data salvage operation that is now taking shape. One of them was Arizona meteorologist and climate hawk Eric Holthaus, who tweeted Saturday evening: “What are the most important .gov climate assets? Scientists: Do you have a US .gov climate database that you don’t want to see disappear?”
“Within hours, responses flooded in from around the country. Scientists added links to dozens of government databases to a Google spreadsheet,” the Post recounts. “Investors offered to help fund efforts to copy and safeguard key climate data. Lawyers offered pro bono legal help. Database experts offered server space and help organizing mountains of data.” And at the University of California-Davis, to “make sure these data sets remain freely and broadly accessible,” environmental researcher Nick Santos began building an online repository.
“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” Santos told the Post. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully, they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”
Santos has begun copying federal climate data to a non-government site, where it will still be available to the public.
Trump has staffed his transition teams for various science-based agencies with a “band of climate conspiracy theorists,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It’s not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute.”
“There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared,” he added. “Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programs storm the castle.”
Holthaus said the effort so far is mainly precautionary. “I don’t actually think that it will happen,” he said. But “all of these data sets are priceless, in the sense that if there is a gap, it greatly diminishes their usefulness.”
“I think it’s much more likely they’d try to end the collection of data, which would minimize its value,” agreed Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler. “Trends are what climate change is about—understanding these long-term changes. Think about how much better off the people who don’t want to do anything about climate change would be if all the long-term temperature trends didn’t exist.”