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As Election Day Nears, Taking Stock of an Expertise Exodus

This story represents a lot of firsts for me. This is my first politics-heavy story, my first story that required extensive data collecting and investigative work, the first time I worked in partnership with another writer, and the first time I worked so closely with an editor throughout the entire process. I loved it and I hope to do more of all those things.

The idea was to write the overarching story of the Trump administration's impact on federal science through the loss of the scientists themselves, many of whom had weathered multiple electoral changes. Starre and I would see resignations and people being sidelined in the news, only for that to be pushed aside for the next outrage/event. We kept waiting for a meta, big data connecting the dots piece, to tie it all together. Finally we decided that we had waited long enough for this kind of long form story to materialize, and needed to do it ourselves.

In addition to the eight profiles featured here, we interviewed dozens more federal scientists and created a fully vetted database for others to use as a starting point to ID people whose skills and expertise have been lost.

It was a center of my work for over three months, and I was so excited to finally see it put together and out in the world. We conceived it as a full multi-media piece, hoping to travel to visit each scientist in person, take photographs, record audio clips, and maybe use data visualizations. And then...the pandemic hit. The final result is a little trimmed down from that initial vision, but I think it remains a powerful piece of work, and one that I am proud of.


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