Governmental Data Erasure
The following piece contains an important error, which I have highlighted in yellow below. I have corrected the record in a follow-up post.
In the USSR, during certain periods, key individuals were erased from photographs and history when they fell out of favor. Trotsky was perhaps the most famous example. Such attempts to falsify images and textbooks for political ends went further, however. Historical reality itself—not just its interpretation and instruction—needed to bend to the regime’s will. Who knew that such crude reality-bending tools would be used in the United States in the 2010s by the party that credits the end of the Cold War to its hero, Ronald Regan?
The new administration’s erasure of data might be one of its most offensive actions thus far. If lives are not immediately threatened by it, the long term will be a different matter. But how to prove such harm when the time comes? Congressional prohibitions on research into the public health effects of gun violence have been effective so far.
At least there are capable individuals and organizations working to safeguard existing data, as in the case of the Internet Archive and recently erased USDA reports on animal welfare. But how did such a class of reports become too hot for certain politicians to handle?
We once punished tobacco companies for suppressing information, but our public servants actively suppress public health data that doesn’t comport with their worldview. Wouldn’t it make more sense to trust the public and to compete in the marketplace of hard data and ideas? And why not serve the public interest by supporting the research that organizations like the USDA, the CDC, the Department of Energy, and the EPA require to fulfill their missions?