Space & Innovation

Climate Scientists Scramble to Backup Data Before Trump Takes Charge

Concerns over the incoming Trump administration's denials of climate change are prompting scientists to preserve data they fear may disappear.

<p>/Shannon Stapleton<span></span></p>

Scientists fearing that crucial data related to climate change might be erased or otherwise lost under Donald's Trump's administration are racing to make copies of the research to protect it.

Two professors in the Technoscience Research Unit at the University of Toronto are holding a Guerilla archiving event to preserve data about the environment. They asked citizens who "care about Trump, data, or the environment" to participate in a "full day of hackathon activities in preparation for the Trump presidency."

Likewise, the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities (PPEH Lab) set up Datarefuge and asked scientists to prioritize the work they feel should be archived and to work together to protect it. They set up a Google Spreadsheet where anyone can flag data they're concerned about. It was so overwhelmed with responses over the weekend that it stopped taking suggestions in the spreadsheet, had to reorganize, and asks people offering help use this form.

Metrological journalist Eric Holthaus called the incoming administration, 'hostile to science" and their recent actions and statements during their transition, a war on science. "This isn't a presidential transition," he writes in the Washington Post. "It's a 21st-century book burning." He sent out a tweet to his followers, asking them to participate in the protection of this data.

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The National Archives also recently issued guidance for federal agencies that are responsible for managing web sites, social media records and other records in accordance with NARA's regulations and the Federal Records Act. It also posted resources for the proper disposition of records, particularly during the transition, on its Records Express blog.

The Internet Archive, too, is backing up terabytes of data to protect it from whatever change may come.

A backbone in this effort is the End of Term Web Archive. This collaboration between The Library of Congress, the University of North Texas, the Internet Archive and others has been working tirelessly to crawl government databases, take snapshots of the social media accounts of government leaders, and archive other sites housing government data sets to capture a snapshot in time before the transition to the next administration takes office.

But despite the urgency felt by participants in this effort, much of this data archiving is business as usual. "We are doing exactly what we have done through two previous administration changes," said Mark Phillips, associate dean for Digital Libraries at the University of North Texas Libraries, and a librarian for the End of Term 2016 Archive.

When presidents change, the publicly available information on government Web sites also changes. Those changes are not necessarily sweeping or drastic. But they are - nonetheless - changes. The End of Term Project was set up in 2008 to take a snapshot of the Web at these transitions and archive it for historical and research purposes.

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"We were prepared for this," Phillips said. "We were already going about it the right way," Phillips said. "The web is easy to change. It is not a permanent publication the way paper is. It is a good thing for us to look at preserving it. And we are. We do."

"We have a nearly 140-year heritage of scientific excellence and objectivity," Puckett said. "These efforts include preserving long-term records such as world-wide earthquake activity, ice cores from around the world, [stream gauging station] records dating back more than 100 years, as well as data needed to support many thousands of peer-reviewed scientific publications."

Phillips said he's pleased to be receiving so much assistance and awareness for this important mission from the public and scientific community. This input is helpful when it comes to determining how to prioritize efforts. "As librarians, we want to know what is important to our researchers so we can to take care of it. That is what librarians do."

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