I am an Arctic researcher. Donald Trump is deleting my citations?

doubt So says Victoria Herrmann in the Graun; with subheading These politically motivated data deletions come at a time when the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. The alert will immeadiately wonder: do you mean citations, or data? Because they aren't the same thing. Those even more alert will wonder "did you even mean citations, or just hyperlinks?" Such folk will not be enlightened by the rest of the article, which continues with paragraphs like:

At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.

Is this the first sign of the much-trumpeted Trump Data Deletion, that I mocked so mercilessly? Or is it just one woman who is unable to write clearly? Before considering that, let's do the ad-homs.

Who is Victoria Herrmann? She appears to be a Gates Cambridge Scholar, PhD Candidate 2014 - 2018 (Expected) at the dept of Geography and/or SPRI. You might well ask how that is compatible with her also being 2015—Present: President & Managing Director, The Arctic Institute. Well, she is USAnian, and Victoria is interested in exploring the nexus of climate change, human development, and public policy in the Arctic. Her PhD research focuses on how images and aesthetic codes construct values, identities, and ideas of power in the Arctic since the Second World War. From a young age Victoria's grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, has inspired her to... which I think will do.

What has gone missing? Her first example is the "US National Strategy for the Arctic". If you look in some places, like http://www.cfr.org/arctic/us-national-strategy-arctic-region/p30686 (archive) you'll find it links to https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/nat_arctic_strategy.pdf which is indeed missing (archive, "Thank you for your interest in this subject. STAY TUNED AS WE CONTINUE TO UPDATE WHITEHOUSE.GOV"). But this - as all but the most hyperventilating know - is simply the new administration *cough* refreshing *cough* the whitehouse.gov website. And as we all know - for example, http://www.thearcticinstitute.org/us-national-strategy-for-arctic-region/ does - you simply need to update your link to https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/docs/nat_arctic_strategy.pdf. Victoria Herrmann might not know this - she is, after all, just a naive managing director. But the Graun ought to know better; we're back to memory-of-a-goldfish type stuff.

All her other examples are reports, too. And naturally when she says "citations" she doesn't mean it in the usual academic sense, of citations to journal papers. Because obviously not even the rabidly paranoid think Trump is deleting back issues of Nature and Science. Not that she has published in either.

So I think she is a touch confused and unable to clearly distinguish data from reports, and citations from internet links. I'm confident, though, that her apparently-entirely-inaccurate piece will be much quoted. As she herself quotes We’ve seen this type of data strangling before. Just three years ago, Arctic researchers witnessed another world leader remove thousands of scientific documents from the public domain. In 2014, then Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper closed 11 department of fisheries and oceans regional libraries, including the only Arctic center. Hundreds of reports and studies containing well over a century of research were destroyed in that process – a historic loss from which we still have not recovered. But I think that's largely made up too; or rather, she didn't make it up, just credulously and opportunistically believed stuff she read that she wanted to believe. We've discussed this before, inconclusively, and no-one has presented any evidence that actual data was deleted, let alone "remove thousands of scientific documents from the public domain".

More like this

A few items that I think you should see: Trump’s executive order puts the world on the road to climate catastrophe On Tuesday, President Donald Trump issued a sweeping executive order that effectively guts national efforts to address climate change. If he isn’t stopped, the endpoint of this…
James Annan, via Tom Adams, finds that the White House search engine has hits on "global warming" deliberately removed. Such fun. Since they are almost bound to get embarassed by this and fix it, the current result for searching the Whitehouse is: Search whitehouse.gov by keyword Results for: "…
This search engine will scan a large number of sites known to have good climate change related information on them. Below is a list of sites scanned. If you know of a site that is not included here but that should be, please put a link in the comments. Don't bother with climate science…
Or so says the Graun: A plan to halve carbon emissions every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years, provides a simple but rigorous roadmap to tackle climate change, scientists say. Well you can't fault the simplicity; then again "everyone should be nice to everyone else"…

Well done. Your version isn't as exciting though.

I found this a very entertaining read, then decided to read the original for myself. It was clear to me that 'citations' refers to links used by other people to reference her work on the whitehouse website.

Thanks for the fun read ;)

By christian geddes (not verified) on 28 Mar 2017 #permalink

It was perhaps the deadline that was iffy. In the article she lists the different things that have been deleted, including "datasets, webpages and policies".

then again.. you could have been hired to write an opposition piece falsely debunking her claims by twisting her use of one word into an 'alternative truth' that would enable you to manipulate the masses into incorrectly believing she is a liar...nah!

By christian geddes (not verified) on 28 Mar 2017 #permalink

If you look at the 'Arctic Institute's so called expert page, I clicked through the profiles, about 20 experts, non of which had any background in science that I saw, all mostly politics/culture/anthropology/law etc. But not one scientist on in your Arctic Institute climate change org? This is why Climate change has just become today, a political tool. http://www.thearcticinstitute.org/experts/

[I think "your" Arctic Institute climate change org is unfair. It is hers, I think. Anyone can set up a website -W]

Let me just say that if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then, my son, you probably just don't appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Yes, all she has to do is update the links in her citations - but how will that work for papers *already* published? How many people are going to follow dead links and then go to the effort of finding out where the cited work is now located?

[Published paper on the whole don't link with URLs. That's what I mean by her confusing or deliberately blurring the difference between citations and links -W]

I thought you were an Antarctic researcher.

[Once upon a time -W]

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 28 Mar 2017 #permalink

...no-one has presented any evidence that actual data was deleted, let alone “remove thousands of scientific documents from the public domain".

Well then - Here's some info on Canadian science under Harper...




[So before I check, do you think that these links provide good evidence of "actual data was deleted, let alone “remove thousands of scientific documents from the public domain"" -W]

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 29 Mar 2017 #permalink

Regarding Harper, I do remember the huge report-burning bonfires that I and other conservatives organized in Canada.

Report-burning bonfires?
That would have taken too much time.
And the smoke would have been a give-away.

Better to use dumpsters...

Science in the USA under Trump will go down something like this:


[OK, so, I picked one (as I'm allowed to), your last. And from that I picked one (as, again, I'm allowed to): Sep 2011. Arctic ozone monitoring & research unit & databases shut down as well as 40 year archive of ice cores. An I wondered: is it true? And as far as I can tell, the answer is no: https://www.ualberta.ca/science/research-and-teaching/research/ice-cores -W]

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 29 Mar 2017 #permalink


I don't take the hyper-ventilatiing Victoria Herrmann very seriously either.

So - You found an example of a Canadian research unit and database that was spared the fed's ax by a provincial university. You may extrapolate from that one example (as you are allowed to). The Experimental Lakes Area was saved as well. But many gov research units were not so fortunate under Harper.

I not sure what evidence you would need to dissuade you that closing at least 41 Canadian federal government libraries and laying off hundreds of research and science library staff was done with no loss of knowledge, documentation, or data.

[I'm not claiming that it was a good thing. But I am claiming that it is possible to close libraries without losing information. So in this case its up to those claiming that information was lost to provide evidence -W]

Look, I was able to find an official order paper that claims that only 160 documents were discarded from a single DFO (Dept Fisheries and Oceans) library. Strangely, the same order paper also provides invoice numbers for disposals at several other DFO libraries.

More here:

and here:

[Those two aren't obviously consistent. The first gives the impression that almost everything was lost; the second, the actual order response, makes it clear that many items were retained for consolidation. But again: from that information, I do not see how you can determine if anything unique was lost. It provides no obvious way to distinguish original single-copy reports, from simple journal collections -W]

That this was all done 'legally' only serves to remind me of Arthur Dent being informed by the Vogons that the plans for demolishing the Earth have been on file in the local planning office for some time...

Anyway - Turner already did a far better job than I ever could:

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 30 Mar 2017 #permalink

Take a look at this page, listing the status of Baseline Surface Radiation stations, and see if you can find out who to contact about data/information on Canadian stations. (There used to be three.)

[Errm. How would I know which ones were Canadian? -W]

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 30 Mar 2017 #permalink

> [OK, so, I picked one (as I’m allowed to), your last. And from that I picked one (as, again, I’m allowed to): Sep 2011. Arctic ozone monitoring & research unit & databases shut down as well as 40 year archive of ice cores. An I wondered: is it true? And as far as I can tell, the answer is no: https://www.ualberta.ca/science/research-and-teaching/research/ice-cores -W]

Is a bit disingenuous. Environment Canada did shut down the Ice Core Research Center - that's why it's now hosted at the University of Alberta. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/canada-s-ice-archive-finds-new-h…

This has many of the details of the changes at Environment Canada due to the Harper administration, last updated Dec. 2016 - http://voices-voix.ca/en/facts/profile/environment-canada

[How would I tell one from the other? And you're still missing the central point: was any data lost? -W]

By Kevin O'Neill (not verified) on 30 Mar 2017 #permalink

...was any data lost? -W

With all due respect, WC, you are being uncharacteristically naive...

Data was lost.

Do you really expect to find a list of the items that are no longer available to the public, conveniently and tidily-compiled by the same researchers and librarians whose government positions were terminated…?

From scientists and researchers themselves (assembled from several sources):

The cutbacks to scientific staff in the public service were draconian. More than 2,000 positions and people were lost, many in my field [of environmental science], resulting in a loss of a generation of skills, knowledge and capacity that were there to serve the public...
... we have trashed a network of world-class marine and fisheries libraries, the envy around the world. The rest of the world cannot believe what is happening in Canada on this issue.
The fact that many materials were thrown away or given away is heartbreaking to those of us who are dedicated to this field of research [marine science and fisheries] and the history of science in Canada.
- Dr Peter Wells, former scientist with Environment Canada

The Harper government closed many of the different science libraries in Canada. It was done in a very chaotic fashion and we have almost certainly lost data that we used to have.... In about six months my team of about 10 people went down to just myself and a graduate student. But my story is hardly unique. It was a common story of many research groups.... It takes decades to build up scientific capacity but it takes months to irretrievably destroy it.

- Dr Thomas Duck, a professor of physics and atmospheric science at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

Kelly Whelan-Enns, head of media and policy research for Manitoba Wildlands, spent two days at the library trying to salvage maps from the 1900s and wildlife data from the 1920s. "I saw a private consultant firm working for Manitoba Hydro back up a truck and fill it with Manitoba data and materials that the public had paid for. I was profoundly saddened and appalled."

In a private email originally sent to a colleague and then shared with The Tyee, one scientist compared the dismemberment of the Freshwater Institute library last week to a rummage sale: "I did manage to salvage a few bits and pieces, one of which was a three volume print version of the data that went into the now extinct DFO toxins database."

The scene at the Freshwater Institute's library shocked another scientist with 30 years of experience in the federal government. "Hundreds of bound journals, technical reports and texts still on the shelves, presumably meant for the garbage or shredding. I saw one famous monograph on zooplankton, which would probably fetch a pretty penny at a used science bookstore... anybody could go in and help themselves, with no record kept of who got what."

Tales of a shambolic "weeding" process, where books and documents deemed unnecessary were given away or trashed, have heightened fears that crucial environmental data will no longer be available to scientists.

"It's a travesty," says Alain Sinclair, a federal fisheries scientist who retired four years ago and a former member of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, the body mandated by federal law to advise the government on species at risk.

The biggest concern is the fate of unique, decades-old "baseline" research, says John Reynolds, professor of aquatic ecology at Simon Fraser University. It includes everything from the temperature of oceans dating back decades, to surveys of plankton in the aquatic food chain, to the state of streams targeted for development.

A credible environmental assessment of the impact of the proposed pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat in B.C., for example, would require historical information about the health of streams along its route, Reynolds notes. Is that information still available? The sensible approach, he adds, would have been to give scientists a full inventory of the collection, have them decide what's important, and then launch a massive digitizing effort — all before the libraries were closed.

A DFO scientist told [the Toronto Star] of recently trying to access several documents that were previously available in one of the closed libraries. They could not be found.
"They may be in the dump or in boxes waiting to be digitized, but they are not available to researchers," says the scientist, who did not want to be identified.

Jennifer Hubbard, a science historian at Ryerson University, had a similar experience. She's editing a book on research conducted at DFO's Biological Station in St. Andrews, N.B., where a library was closed. She used DFO's online service to try to find "a couple of hundred" grey literature sources that were archived at that library. About 20 per cent of the material can't be found online, and Hubbard has no idea if it still exists.

Keeping the public and press in the dark about what's happening at the DFO is not without dangerous historical precedent, says Kelly Toughill, a journalism professor at King's University in Halifax. "About 18 years ago the federal government ignored, then muzzled DFO scientists who were warning that cod was being over-fished in Newfoundland. The result was the complete collapse of the cod fishery and the complete collapse of the economy of what was then Canada's poorest province."

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 31 Mar 2017 #permalink

The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse, Hi .
I was thinking about the last time I went to a library [ for some audio books I believe, and a read of the daily newspaper] saves a dollar short term, kills the paper long term.

"a three volume print version of the data that went into the now extinct DFO toxins database.”
I saw one famous monograph on zooplankton, which would probably fetch a pretty penny at a used science bookstore"'
These are the sorts of books that turn up for 45 cents at our local country town antique shop. Full of knowledge for someone somewhere , just 99.99999% of people don't want them. Ah well, If I have to know that Canadian clams have 97 wrinkles on the left bi-valve and 98 on the right, unless it is a Republican clam shell, I will cry. Until then lots of lost "data" is just not that important. If it was it would have been saved by value of its import. I bet the Oilfield records are all safely stored.

Until then lots of lost “data” is just not that important. If it was it would have been saved by value of its import.

Having worked in several large data-using organizations, I can assure you that neither of these assertions is true.

Well, the transfer of ice cores from the Canadian government to the University of Alberta was discussed earlier. It looks like a freezer failure has led to the loss of a portion of the collection:


[That's rather embarrassing for them. But, regrettable as it is, it's an accident. I'm I'm not sure your "has led to" is justified -W]

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 06 Apr 2017 #permalink

I'm tempted to blame politics for all missing scientific data, but I can't. In my career as an IT support provider in federal science labs, a plurality of hours went to the problem of data backup and archiving. I had to take it much more seriously than the scientists I worked for did. The scientist and the computer can be replaced, but the data may very well be irreplaceable.

Long-term (decade-scale) digital data storage and retrieval are as yet unsolved problems, even when the users of the data are fully aware of the requirement and have budgeted for it. Here, of course, is where politics raises its head: if neglect of the long-term digital storage problem is official government policy, there's not much hope for technical progress.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 07 Apr 2017 #permalink

"I’m I’m not sure your “has led to” is justified -W"

Well, I restricted my "has led to" to the freezer malfunction, which is pretty well supported in the article, I think.

Or were you taking it as an implied "transferring out of government has led to..."??? That is indeed a much weaker insinuation, which is why I avoided stating it explicitly.

In the context of this thread, yes, I am relating the transfer away from government as being a possible factor in the loss. But then, I used to work at U of A and knew Dr. Sharp, and I currently work in the Canadian federal government, and I am aware of many instances during the Harper era where government programs were silently shut down or passed to external agencies that could not provide an adequate level of support. Data might not have been thrown out in all cases, but leaving it to rot in a basement (or on a discarded computer) where nobody knows what it is, and getting rid of any staff that might have known what to do with it is just as effective.

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 07 Apr 2017 #permalink


The scientist and the computer can be replaced, but the data may very well be irreplaceable.

Long-term (decade-scale) digital data storage and retrieval are as yet unsolved problems.

Even a self-anointed expert can sometimes know when he's met his match. I'm glad I never had to confront this particular data storage problem:

An Ice Scientist’s Worst Nightmare
Way too many opportunities for the demon Murphy to instantiate his Law.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 12 Apr 2017 #permalink