Missing Information Has Value: Climate Change and the EPA website
Environmental science students critically analyzed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website and its treatment of climate change during the Trump, Obama, and Bush presidencies. This library “warm-up” activity was designed to raise awareness of data fragility and the long-term accessibility of government websites. As future science professionals, it’s important to think about how this impacts scientists and their work. Students were introduced to several tools including: The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, End of Term Archive, and Data Refuge. What happens when government web pages are hidden, moved, or deleted?
1.Students will begin to discuss how social, economic, and power structures influence the production and dissemination of climate change information on the EPA website.
2.Students will recognize how government priorities impact federal websites and data accessibility.
3.Students will be able to search the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine in order to find missing or deleted government web pages.
Information Literacy concepts:
Individual or Group:
This was a library "warm-up" activity and discussion for a traditional one-shot library instruction session for upper-division environmental science and health & human science students. It was a 75 minute class (warm-up 20-30 minutes). The students needed to find articles and data for their climate change topics. The professor also asked if I could show them how to locate climate change information that had recently disappeared from several federal government websites.
I gave each student a worksheet with directions. In groups of two, students navigated the websites, shared their thoughts with a partner and answered the worksheet questions in writing. Then we had a class discussion and I collected the worksheets.
This activity can be modified for a communication studies, journalism or English class. Students can analyze the language of the new EPA website and compare it to earlier archived versions via the WayBack Machine. The term "climate change" was erased and replaced by terms like "extreme weather" and "resilience."
Instead of counting how many times “climate change” is mentioned on the EPA home page, some students used the search box and received 10,000+ results.