Defending the Data: Dartmouth Professor Dan Rockmore Helps Preserve Climate Science

Valley News

When word got out that the Trump administration, as part of its climate change denial efforts, planned to eliminate critical science data from federal government websites, Dartmouth math whiz Dan Rockmore mobilized.

He joined an international crusade by scholars and scientists to download massive volumes of valuable data on everything from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to satellite images of polar ice. The data is being stored safely on publicly available nongovernmental sites such as Climate Mirror (http://climatemirror.org), as well as in colleges and universities, including Dartmouth. He also persuaded Dartmouth administrators to finance additional data storage capacity.

The data rescue operations took on new urgency Thursday when the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, said in a television interview that he does not believe carbon dioxide, generated by human activity, is a major contributor to accelerated climate change, a statement at odds with mainstream scientific consensus, in addition to the EPA itself.

Pruitt’s statement, coming after recent reports that the administration will propose deep budget cuts for government agencies such as the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, deepened fears of databases being jeopardized. Although it is illegal to destroy government data, agencies can modify websites to make access to science data more difficult if not impossible. This is already happening on several federal science agency websites, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a new international entity that monitors data.

Rockmore is a soft-spoken, laid-back professor of both mathematics and computer science. A renaissance faculty member, he is the William H. Neukom 1964 Distinguished Professor of Computational Science, director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science and a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience — but he doesn’t own a smartphone. He is a prolific author and blogger on a range of subjects besides math, a documentary filmmaker, a curator of a well-received math-art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a commentator for Vermont Public Radio, a hiker, tennis and squash player, a member of the Dresden School Board and father of three children in Hanover schools (his wife, Ellen, teaches writing at Dartmouth). He comes from New Jersey, is in his mid-50s, and has a penchant for sneakers, jeans and golden retrievers.

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