An order issued by the Interior Department that is ostensibly meant to increase transparency and accessibility of research data may end up restricting the use of science-based studies in the formulation of federal policy.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) claims that Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s order instead is “an attempt to place unnecessary burdens on the use of scientific evidence that runs contrary to the Trump administration’s agenda.”
Researcher Charise Johnson explains how in the UCS Blog:
Requiring that scientific data be publicly available means that some high-quality data can’t be used in federal government research. Raw data may include confidential information such as private addresses and locations of sacred spaces and cultural resources or even the locations of the last remaining individuals of an endangered species. A colleague said, “It’s like telling poachers where the last rhinos are living,” an astute analogy. Allowing such data to be publicly available could put individuals, species, and culturally or religiously important sites at risk. In some cases, data from older studies may be inaccessible where the authors or data sources may not be available. This would be an issue for reproducibility as well, especially considering that long-term studies and studies determining the natural history of species often rely on data obtained before the advent of modern data storage.
As Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists previously pointed out, raw data is not typically reviewed even in the most rigorous peer-reviews. Instead, the research questions, the methods, the summarized data, the results and conclusions are reviewed to assess the quality of the work.
Restricting the scientific information eligible for use at DOI would leave many agencies and bureaus therein unable to meet their missions and statutory obligations. This proposal could make the conservation of endangered species all the more difficult because of the requirement to reveal location data, landholder information and other information that is best kept confidential in order to protect endangered plants and animals. Additionally, these restrictions would increase burdens on agency scientists that are already encumbered by budget cuts, reorganizations, and understaffing, resulting only in reduced capacity to make science-based decisions.