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Catherine Rampel: The Trump Administration's War on Statistics Now Threatens Life



First of all, they came for the unemployment rate, and we thought of it as bullshit.

Then they came for a crowd, and we laughed at the absurdity.

The next casualty was the deficit, i.e. which they said was shrinking even when we saw him rise; also climate data that they downplay, doctorate or disappear without a trace. But we said, well, they always do that, no big deal.

They used to clean the raw herbivores that list crop prices and other agricultural statistics, and we ignored that because we weren't farmers. They even came for the yield curve, which they said she had not reversed when she had, but that even if inverted, the inversion would mean the opposite of what everyone knows it means.

Now they have come for the weather forecast. And if earlier episodes of President Trump's war on statistics endanger livelihoods, then that threatens life.

For weeks, Trump insistently insisted that his false tweet about Hurricane Dorian's threat to Alabama was correct. The episode included a moment so ridiculous it would be too broad even for the HBO comedy series Veep: Last Wednesday Trump showed a map of the hurricane, which was apparently shackled.

It was funny, telegenic, easy to grasp. So, of course, Sharpiegate received news reports about the vase. However, the more sinister developments in this saga received far less attention. They happened last Sunday when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sent a nationwide secret directive warning its scientists not to contradict the president, and then the following Friday, when NOAA released an unsigned statement supporting the false forecast of Trump and ignoring his scientists. It is reported that after the sales secretary threatens dismissals.

Certainly, Trump's attacks on objective statistics, scientists or indeed any independent source of accountability are nothing new. On the contrary, such attacks have become widespread. Anyone who dares to present, or even accurately report, politically embarrassing indicators is said to be engaging in a huge anti-Trump conspiracy, or in some ways rooted in America's failure.

Even at this moment, media corrections to Trump's false claims about stock performance or air cleanliness or the power of the manufacturing sector may feel annoying, meticulous and exhausting. Trump is just Trump, the stunts are scrambling. We must all move on to "real" problems, not these distractions from any other terrible (or, depending on your point of view, wonderful) things that the administration does.

But these are real problems. Trump's attempts to manipulate official metrics ̵

1; as well as the aspirations he throws at metrics he cannot manipulate – worsen our democracy, economy and public safety.

Distrust in official data is deadly to voters' ability to evaluate public policies as well as records. to the officials who draft or control these policies.

This numerical nihilism also carries the ability of companies and households to make informed and cost-effective decisions, something that the Trump billionaire's cabinet needs to appreciate.

And as illustrated by the administration's insistence that even the weather forecast is false, erosion of trust in government data can also kill people.

The director of the National Weather Service delivered a bold speech Monday – at an annual meteorological meeting in Alabama from all locations. He noted that shortly after the initial tweet about the Alabama hurricane, the Birmingham National Weather Service's office noticed that "phones and social media" were lit up with questions about Dorian. Without really understanding what triggered these troubling inquiries, he tweeted to reassure the public that "Alabama will NOT see any # Dorian effects."

"They did this with one mind in mind: public safety," NWS Director Louis Uchelini said, protecting employees who had been attacked by his superiors. "The Birmingham office did this to stop the panic."

After all, just as there are costs of failing to alert people to dangerous weather, so are there costs to encourage people to marvel at dangerous weather that does not exist. For the National Meteorological Service, long-term reliability has Significance: If people come to believe that the government is detecting or even inventing the risk of natural disasters, they can ignore these warnings the next time there is actually a significant risk of natural disasters.

This problem is not theoretical. in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011, when 158 people died in a powerful tornado despite warnings from the National Weather Service. A subsequent NOAA report found that the perceived frequency of tornado warning sirens made people "desensitized or complacent" and "take no protective action" until it's too late.

Just as we don't want Americans to become "desensitized or complacent" about the risk of deadly time, neither should we afford to be "desensitized or complacent" about the risk this president poses to one of our country's most valuable assets: reliable, reliable and non-partisan public data.

  Catherine Rampell
Catherine Rampell


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