Monday, February 6, 2017

Chief Australian scientist compares Trump to Stalin on science censorship


Alan Finkel, Australia's chief scientist, has compared Donald Trump to Josef Stalin, in the moves to censor environmental data and climate science at the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and other US Government agencies.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin exerted an iron control of science in the USSR.

Finkel's statement was made as part of a speech to the Chief Scientists' roundtable discussion at the Australian National University. Also of note in attendance was New Zealand’s Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, and UK’s former Chief Scientist Professor Sir John Beddington.

In his speech Finkel announced he was "going off topic" as "science is literally under attack".


According to the Sydney Morning Herald report, 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.

Dr Finkel said that he valued his independence and was grateful that no Australian prime minister or minister had ever told him what to say.

The Guardian report elaborated:


“Soviet agricultural science was held back for decades because of the ideology of Trofim Lysenko, who was a proponent of Lamarckism,” he said.

“Stalin loved Lysenko’s conflation of science and Soviet philosophy and used his limitless power to ensure that Lysenko’s unscientific ideas prevailed.

“Lysenko believed that successive generations of crops could be improved by exposing them to the right environment, and so too could successive generations of soviet citizens be improved by exposing them to the right ideology.

“So while Western scientists embraced evolution and genetics, Russian scientists who thought the same were sent to the gulag. Western crops flourished. Russian crops failed.

“Today, the catch-cry of scientists must be frank and fearless advice, no matter the opinion of political commissars stationed at the US EPA,” he said.



Scientists and friends of Science are organising a March for Science on Earth Day 2017, 22 April 2017 in the United States. There will also be marches across the world, including in Australia.

The March for Science describes itself as "a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community."

"We are scientists and science enthusiasts. We come from all races, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, political perspectives and nationalities. Our diversity is our greatest strength: a wealth of opinions, perspectives and ideas is critical for the scientific process. What unites us is a love of science and an insatiable curiosity. We all recognise that science is everywhere and affects everyone. Science is often an arduous process but it is also thrilling. A universal human curiosity and dogged persistence is the greatest hope for the future."

"This movement cannot and will not end with a march. Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with marches worldwide but it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels - from local schools to federal agencies - throughout the world." says the statement on the March for Science Melbourne Facebook Event Page.

For other Australian marches see March for Science Australia website.



Photo of Alan Finkel in 2014 Copyright: WIPO. Photo: Gavin Jowitt Photography. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 IGO License.