Rather unexpectedly operations here at TheScientificParent.org ground to a halt on Monday. Discussions I’d been having with subject matter experts on a variety of topics ended without warning. On Tuesday I was trying to find a subject matter expert to address a topic, only to not hear back from anyone. After hours responses trickled in through informal channels and the story was the same, “I can’t talk, I’m afraid I will lose my job.”
As you have likely heard from other sources, on Monday the Trump administration ordered a media blackout and freezing of grant funds at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and on Tuesday the administration ordered a communications blackout for researchers at United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The result has been a chilling effect, not just for government scientists in other departments, but for researchers and scientists working on government grants at other institutions. People are afraid that if they speak to the media on even apolitical topics like strep throat or the nutritional content of breast milk, it could put a target on their backs.
The burden of this risk becomes even heavier when you consider that here at TheScientificParent.org we like our subject matter experts to be parents, so they can speak from that common space of experience. In writing for this site, or speaking to the media, scientists and researchers aren’t just risking their jobs or funding, they’re risking the well being of their families and those who also work on their grants. For many that risk is too high to bear, and I understand and respect that.
So what does this mean for our readers? It means that we can’t get you the information you need, and in many cases, the information you’ve specifically asked for.
The problem that has built up around researchers and scientists is the public perception that their work is removed from the “real world.” That they study very random and very specific things that don’t impact our daily lives, when in fact the research that scientists conduct impacts our daily lives. If it didn’t, this website wouldn’t exist, and our readers wouldn’t submit questions that they want and need answered by researchers and scientists.
Here’s what we’re going to do over here. I’m not going to ask American researchers and scientists to risk the well being of their families and that of their staff to answer our reader questions any more. That is unfair for anyone to ask someone to do. We will do our best to find an American expert that is willing and able to answer reader questions, but failing that we will turn to the international academic and scientific community to answer reader questions. That may mean that our expert won’t be as familiar with American policies and regulations and may not be able to speak to those concerns.
So that’s what we’re going to do, now what are you, our readers, going to do?
We need you pick up your phone and call your elected representatives and let them know that this is not OK. That as a parent you need scientists to be able to explain their research to the public so that you can make better decisions for your family. Let them know that science is not partisan. Parents, of all political affiliations need to hear directly from scientists about their work. If you’re one of our international readers, we also need you to call your elected representatives and tell them that you need an investment in health and science research in your country, to pick up where America has left off.
We will continue to do our best to answer your questions and bring you the information you need over here at TheScientificParent.org, but we need your help to be able to do it.