Jeremy J. Shapiro on 17 Mar 2001 20:24:39 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Fwd: web censorship

To: pol-sci-tech <>
Subject: web censorship
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2001 20:54:48 -0800
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A good reason to archive websites! 

Check out the LA times story as well:


Hi All,

Well, I have been fired for posting to the internet a single web page 
with some maps showing the distribution of caribou calving areas in 
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).  

My entire website has now 
been removed from the internet.  This represents about 3 years 
worth of work and 20,000 plus maps showing bird, mammal and 
amphibian distributions, satellite imagery, landcover and vegetation 
maps for countries and protected areas all around of the globe.  As 
far as I aware it was one of the biggest collections of maps online 
and certainly the biggest collection showing maps of biodiversity 
and the environment.  The website was often visited by over a 
thousand visitors each week.  In addition, I was fulfilling roughly a 
dozen requests for geospatial data and information from 
colleagues, other researchers and the general public each day.  

All of this comes as a rather big surprise to me.  I was given no 
chance to remove the webpage or even finish writing an appeal 
before my position was terminated.  I was working under a contract 
so I believe I have very little legal recourse.  I have received no 
written explanation (or even an email) stating the exact reasons for 
the termination decision and I understand that even though this 
would be a reasonable courtesy to expect, it is unlikely to be 

>From my viewpoint my dismissal was a high-level political decision 
to set an example to other Federal scientists.  I base this belief on 
the following information I received from a colleague in Alaska who 
is a leading researcher on the issues involved:  

"I really hope you don't get fired.  In fact, had the timing of what you 
did not been so inappropriate based on everything else that was 
going on, I doubt that anyone would have noticed.  Your work 
showed a lot of initiative..."  

"...the fallout would not have been so great had the subject matter 
not been one of the three USDOI super hot topics with the new 
administration and had we not been briefing the Secretary at the 
nearly exact time your website went up.  Everyone is nervous and 
as I mentioned earlier, consistency in presentation is paramount."  

So now, I believe my only recourse is to appeal to the general 
public in the hope that in the future what just happened to me will 
not happen to others.  

I would recommend anybody in a similar circumstances to contact 
the fine people at Public Employees for Environmental 
Responsibility ( or a similar organization.  

The response and support I have received from friends online has 
been truely amazing.  I very much appreciate how quickly people 
have acted on my behalf and helped publicize my plight and I 
especially wish to thank the international mapping 
community...receiving letters of support from far away places 
cheers me up no end.  Please feel free to forward this email to 
other lists and media contacts!  I would also be grateful if anybody 
who misses all the maps I put on the internet please contact the 
USGS to let them know and to ask that the maps be reposted.  

I feel very bad that these events are also affecting my colleagues at 
Patuxent.  Patuxent was a great place to work, has amazing 
researchers and everybody I worked with is very supportive.  

Many, many thanks for your support,

Ian Thomas

The Details:

Nobody instructed/authorized me to post the web pages on Arctic 
National Wildlife Refuge.  It was done on my own initiative.  I was 
working on land cover maps for all National Wildlife Refuges using 
the new National Landcover Datasets.  Last week I published over 
1000 land cover maps online covering every National Wildlife 
Refuge and National Park in the lower 48. (These maps have now 
been removed from the internet too).  Similar land cover data for 
Alaska were not available but the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 
had a good landcover map so I included it.  

In the past, I helped produce the only set of maps online showing 
all bird species distributions in Alaska.  In addition I have produced 
online mammal distribution atlases of Africa, maps for tigers in asia 
and I was working on digitizing North American mammal range 
maps produced by the Smithsonian Institution.  

I have also been conducting background research to prepare 
proposals to study the effects of mineral extraction on biodiversity 
and protected areas on a very large scale.  One such proposal that 
I was preparing would have looked at exporting analysis and 
mapping methods applied in the United States to other regions of 
the World such as Africa.  The proposal was co-sponsored by the 
Mineral Division of USGS and the World Resources Institute.  

The migration of caribou in North America is the closest thing that 
we have to the great mammal migrations that occur in Africa.  
African protected areas are also under great pressure from possible 
development for mineral extraction.  So the carribou distributions 
that I found on the Fish and Wildlife Service public website were of 
particular interest.  I have also worked for several years on maps of 
migratory bird distribution patterns. I therefore have a great interest 
in other migratory animals as many of the temporal mapping 
problems are similar.  

I was completely unaware that there was anything wrong with 
publishing ANWR maps. I have never been informed of any agency 
restrictions or any other guidelines on publishing maps depicting 
ANWR...I only now have been informed that there is a two week old 
agency "communications directive" that limits who is allowed to 
distribute new information on ANWR within my agency.  

I thought that I was helping further public and scientific 
understanding and debate of the issues at ANWR by making some 
clearer maps.  I also hoped that colleagues in USGS would see the 
maps and then contact me if they needed additional mapping help.  
I was careful to quote my sources and explain what I had done.  I 
made no statement about what the maps might mean with regard 
to oil development of the refuge.  

The web pages were put up on Wednesday, March 7, last week.  
The first thing I did when I put the ANWR pages up on the internet 
was to inform other USGS Biological Resources Division mapping 
people and other agency (Fish Wildlife Service and National Park 
Service respectively) GIS people through email that they were on 
the web.  Informing other Federal colleagues and agencies 
immediately upon publication to the web appears to me to be the 
only reasonable review process available, seeing as there is no 
internal review website currently available...I have never been 
informed of any other established proceedure for review of web 
content on our site. I actually haven't had any complaints about or 
requests to change any other map on my website...  

I assumed that if anybody had a problem they could contact me 
directly and quickly and appropriate steps could be taken almost 
immediately. I received one warning from a colleague that the maps 
I put on the internet should be removed.  Unfortunately, it was sent 
on Saturday so I did not receive it in time.  I think the decision to 
terminate me was taken before I even got to work on Monday.  

I also assumed that because all I was doing was esentially 
presenting existing public information in a clearer and improved 
format, there was very little need for any extensive review other 
than the steps I took.  Indeed the changes that I made to the 
original Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) web maps were simply to 
digitize them ("trace"), then overlay them on satellite and 
vegetation maps and then summarize how may years specific 
areas were a high density caribou calving area.  I found a similar 
(poor quality) summary map on the FWS website that allowed me 
to check the accuracy of my simple analysis.  

I was unaware that FWS had updated the data.  There is no 
mention of updated information on the FWS website.  This new 
data has still to be made public. If my maps were inaccurate in any 
way so are the public FWS maps I copied.... (please refer to  

I think that over the last three years I have put more maps up on 
the internet (at a guess approaching 20,000 to 30,000 static 
individual maps) equalling any other website on the world wide web. 
So out of the tens of thousands of maps (and hours) I finally 
publish one that got me fired....I suppose the odds were going to 
run out eventually....  

I am concerned that other Federal researchers may easily make 
the same mistakes I just made and should learn from my example 
what happens if you're not careful.  

Patuxent was a great place to work, has amazing researchers and 
everybody I worked with is very supportive.  

	Ian Thomas

        Former Mapping Specialist at the:
        GIS & Remote Sensing Unit
	Biological Resources Division
	United States Geological Survey
	Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Old Homepage (no longer available)

The Global Environmental Atlas (no longer available)

Michael R. Meuser,
Community-Based Research, GIS, WebMaps,
Environmental Justice, Right-to-Know Advocacy

Website Archiving, Data Mining 

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