Days after that Donald Trump made that insulting phone call to Australia’s prime minister, his fellow countryman and the nation’s Chief Scientist has blasted His High and Mightiness for the late Soviet leader in the White House’s ongoing war on science.
And, yes, Chief Scientist is an official Australian government position, described as follows:
Australia’s Chief Scientist provides high-level independent advice to the Prime Minister and other Ministers on matters relating to science, technology and innovation. They also hold the position of Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Science Council to identify challenges and opportunities for Australia that can be addressed, in part, through science.
Alan Finkel is an electrical engineer who has served as Chancellor of Monash University and President of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.
His remarks came during a Chief Scientists’ roundtable discussion today at the Australian National University, and he was unsparing in his criticism.
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Dr Finkel said: “The Trump administration has mandated that scientific data published by the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] must undergo review by political appointees before they can be published.”
In the first week of his presidency Mr Trump’s administration informed the EPA it could not send out press releases and no blog messages could be published. The EPA was also told “no new content can be placed on any website”.
The Chief Scientist told an audience at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy that this political control was comparable to Stalin’s promotion of Trofim Lysenko’s ideas on genetics and evolution in the USSR from the 1920s.
Dr Finkel said: “It is reminiscent of the censorship exerted by political officers in the old Soviet Union. Every military commander there had a political officer second-guessing his decisions.
“Soviet agricultural science was held back for decades because of the ideology of Trofim Lysenko. Stalin loved Lysenko’s conflation of science and Soviet philosophy and used his limitless power to ensure that Lysenko’s unscientific ideas prevailed.”
Dr Finkel said: “While Western scientists embraced evolution and genetics, Russian scientists who thought the same were sent to the gulag. Western crops flourished. Russian crops failed.”
The Chief Scientist said there was no place for such political control of science. “Frank and fearless advice — no matter the views of the political commissars at the EPA,” he said.
As they say Down Under, Good on ya, mate!