The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell had a terrific piece last week, highlighting the Trump administration’s efforts to “compromise” official government data. She had plenty of evidence to work with.
Don’t like the numbers? Invent new numbers instead.
Or make it harder to collect trustworthy numbers next time.
Or just put the squeeze on the number crunchers themselves.
Slowly but surely, the Trump administration has been chipping away at the independence and integrity of our federal statistical agencies, whose data is critical to keeping our democracy functioning and our economy healthy.
Let’s take stock of the developments from just the past few weeks because when pulled together, the stories paint an unsettling picture. We learned three weeks ago, for example, about the Trump administration’s plan to reduce the poverty rate by tweaking what should count as “poverty.”
The New York Times reported soon after on the EPA plan to tweak pollution data in a way that would benefit polluters.
Two days later, Politico reported on Trump’s Agriculture Department, which is moving forward with a plan to uproot the department’s Economic Research Service. As Politico reported last week, the USDA “is moving nearly all its researchers into the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps – subjects of controversial Trump administration initiatives – outside of Washington, part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president’s policies.”
This week, the New York Times added that Team Trump intends to “undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.”
The article noted, “In the most recent example, the White House-appointed director of the United States Geological Survey, James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist, has ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously.”
And then, of course, there’s the effort to politically manipulate the Census.
I can appreciate why this may seem like a dry topic. Few would consider “data manipulation” and “statistical modeling” phrases associated with click-bait.
But I’m of the opinion that developments like these are part of a larger dynamic surrounding Donald Trump’s presidency: the aggressive campaign to rewrite the rules of how Americans are supposed to understand the world around them.