Last week, more than 200 programmers met in the Doe Library at the University of California in Berkeley to participate in what they called a “hackathon." Their goal was to protect data that focused on NASA's earth sciences programs and the Department of Energy. Their fear is that the data would be deleted or omitted under the new and not-so-Earth-friendly Trump Administration.
The hackers were able to preserve 8,404 web pages onto the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a digital library that consists of screenshots from different websites. They were also able to download 25GB of data from 101 public datasets. Nerds to the rescue!
The coders were also able to create "robust systems" that would allow them to track any changes made to government websites. For example, because of the "robust systems" created, they were able to determine that the Global Change Data Center's reports archive and a NASA atmospheric carbon dioxide dataset had already been deleted this early on in the new administration.
Trump has been outspoken to his beliefs in regards climate change. In 2015, during an interview on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, Trump said, "I'm not a believer in manmade global warming." He also referred to climate change during his campaign as a "hoax" during a speech in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
In less than a month, Trump has already signed an executive order to move forward with reviving the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines. He ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the climate change page from its website and he nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has referred to climate as a "religious belief, to lead the EPA.
These are not the first activists to plan a hackathon. At 10am on the Saturday before inauguration day, 60 hackers, scientists, archivists and librarians met on the 6th floor of the Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Their goal was also to save climate data from being deleted by the new administration.
They sat at their laptops, drew up flow charts and used whiteboards. They scrolled through hundreds of government web pages from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They worked fast knowing that this information could be deleted or altered when the new Trump administration settled in the White House. They were way ahead of the game and they were right.
They had no proof or evidence that the administration would tamper with the data, but they looked at history for clues. Under the Stephen Harper administration in Canada, scientists watched while Harper’s officials threw away thousands of books of aquatic data into dumpsters. They were ordered to keep quiet on the subject of climate change and watched as they closed the doors of many environmental research libraries.
But just 3 very long days later, it was announced that the Trump’s administration planned to remove climate data from the agency’s website. This data included President Barack Obama’s June 2013 Climate Action Plan and the strategies for 2014 and 2015 to cut methane, according to an anonymous source who spoke with Inside EPA.
Of course the hackers were were not caught off guard by this news. “It’s entirely unsurprising,” said Bethany Wiggin, the director of the environmental humanities program at Penn. Wiggin was one of the organizers of the data-rescuing event at Penn.
Michelle Murphy is a technoscience scholar at the University of Toronto. She traveled from Philly to Toronto where another “data-rescuing hackathon” took place a month prior. She brought back with her a list of all the data sets that were too difficult for Toronto volunteers to crack in hopes that they would be able to crack it at Penn. These hackathons are taking place all over the world.
At the Penn hackathon, a group of coders called “baggers” went straight for the tougher data and wrote scripts, collected them in bundles and uploaded it all to DataRefuge.org. According to the site, “DataRefuge.org helps to build refuge for federal data and supports climate and environmental research and advocacy. We are committed to fact-based arguments. DataRefuge preserves the facts we need at a time of ongoing climate change.”
While climate change is a huge focus of these hackathons, according to Erik Kansa, an anthropologist with nonprofit group Open Context, "Climate change data is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a huge number of other datasets being threatened with cultural, historical, sociological information."