Rebecca Jones, a scientist who developed a data visualization tool to help track the spread of COVID-19, ran a police branding gun at her home. Jones said on Twitter that his “hardware and technology” had been taken. Police say they are investigating allegations that he encouraged colleagues to reveal the actual scale of the epidemic in his native Florida. Jones has a different explanation, and if he’s right, the ongoing battle with scientists’ ability, to tell the truth, has increased dramatically.
When the epidemic hit, Jones was the team manager for the Florida Department of Health’s General Information Systems. He helped create a dashboard that gave people easy access to county-county information based on case rates. Although the design was borrowed from the widely used Johns Hopkins University Global Tracker, Zone’s work was considered innovative at the local level and was replicated for other jurisdictions.
Jones was fired in May. He did not go silent but claimed that he was pressured to censor Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to support anti-lockdown pressure as its prevalence had taken a demonstrable size. Jones told CBS News, missing from the site, that policy decisions have been reflected.
The official charge against John is that he accessed an emergency messaging system to encourage his former colleagues to speak up. However, Jones told CNN that he no longer has access to the system. He believes the real motivation is to identify someone who has leaked evidence of his cover. A spokesman for the descent told CNN: “There was no involvement in the governor’s office’s investigation, there was any knowledge, there was nothing.”
The campaign follows the front page of the “Orlando Sentinel” entitled “Privacy and Spin,” “How the Florida governor misled the public about the epidemic.” Although not mentioned in the Zone story, he was, in fact, the key person in gathering information about what was really happening in Florida and how it differed from the official line.
Totalitarian governments have always suppressed science, most famously when evolution was studied from Darwin’s point of view Russian scientists could be sent to Siberia. Democracies, on the other hand, generally saw the free practice of science as part of a way of life, including the distribution of discoveries without military influence.
That has changed in recent years. Climate scientists around the world are now regularly harassed by angry people who see their results. Some governments have joined the crackdown. The former Harper government of Canada has banned scientists from publicly discussing their findings without official approval.
Florida was at the top of this trend and only climate change was banned for state workers. Nonetheless, trying to intimidate a scientist by pointing a gun at their children and sitting quietly would be a new low-quality thing, if we only saw it.