Sharpiegate: Erasing the Facts

Hurricane Dorian, the storm that recently wrecked the Bahamas, has managed to generate a political storm in the U.S: Sharpiegate.

Hurricane Dorian, the storm that recently wrecked the Bahamas, has managed to generate a political storm in the U.S: Sharpiegate. It all started when President Trump tweeted that “South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama [would] most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated by the storm.” Unfortunately for Trump, however, the storm was not forecasted to hit Alabama—something the Birmingham National Weather Service quickly pointed out on Twitter. Soon after, Trump revealed a map detailing the hurricane’s path. However, when members of the media zoomed in on the picture, they noticed something strange: The hurricane’s path had been altered to include Alabama—with a black sharpie. When this was pointed out, Trump’s administration only escalated the conflict. According to the New York Times, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and “instructed Jacobs to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president,” and was informed that his job depended on it. The fact that Trump lies is old news—his insistence on creating his own reality is one familiar to the American public. From his inauguration turnout to the mere suggestion of “alternative facts,”there are objective falsehoods that have persisted in his tenure. However, “sharpiegate” and its threats against NOAA scientists suggest a far more concerning outcome for the scientific community and the country overall.

Trump’s comments puts the validity of scientific information at risk, and in turn, the very nature of the scientific process. In the case of Shapiegate, for example, had the NOAA released a false alarm for Alabama, it would have caused undue panic and instilled a mistrust of the agency, making any future warnings less credible. When scientists present information, it is crucial to get everything correct. Science is based on facts and reasoning, and as a result, scientific conclusions are accepted as facts until proven otherwise. The scientific community discovers and reports those facts to the public, who utilizes that knowledge to advance society. That communication requires trust, which is determined by the credibility of the scientists. It’s one thing to criticize the media, but it’s another thing entirely to go after the scientific community. By threatening it and attempting to destroy its credibility, Trump threatens one of the few sources of objective, unbiased information—sources of facts.

At a time where the state of information is so contentious, the nature of science’s objectivity should be preserved. As technology continues to improve and advance, the truth seems to become more elusive. Technology can be used to alter images (without the use of a sharpie, that is), videos, and convey misleading information to the public. It’s becoming difficult to tell facts from fiction, especially when we have a President who clearly favors the latter. Yet now, more than ever, the truth is of the utmost importance. In order to get things done as a country and society, we need to be working off of the same information. We have countless issues—vaccines, GMOs, climate change—that cannot be addressed without a consistent and concrete scientific understanding of the subject itself. That type of understanding can’t happen without the facts pouring out of the scientific community.

Furthermore, science is what informs our policy decisions. The U.S. currently struggles with issues that could be handled more effectively if everyone was using the same information. The U.S. has trouble dealing with climate change, for example, because not everyone accepts the facts. President Trump has certainly played a role in this issue; last year, he contradicted his own scientists’ findings, discrediting the scientific community and spreading doubt about climate change’s existence. Other countries seem to grapple with an unwillingness to act against climate change, but the U.S. is still fighting to acknowledge climate change, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence. Climate change activist Greta Thunberg recently commented on this difference: “[In the U.S.], it feels like it is being discussed as something you believe in or [do] not believe in. And where I come from, it’s more like, it’s a fact.” The U.S. is a crucial step behind when time itself is of the essence. Something clearly needs to be done about climate change, but that can only happen once people accept the facts.

Thus, Trump’s attempts to compromise the integrity of the scientific community come at a dangerous time. Science exists to uncover the truth about the mechanics of the world around us, and right now, science is telling us that climate change is a real threat. There are countless problems that can be more effectively managed if the facts were universally accepted. We can’t afford to have the truth silenced, especially over something as petty as Sharpiegate.

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