Florida Ousts COVID-19 Scientist For Refusing To Manipulate Data

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference at the Hard Rock Stadium testing site on May 06, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Gov. DeSantis announced during the press conference that a COVID-19 antibodies test will be available.
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A Florida scientist named Rebekah Jones, who created the state’s COVID-19 data portal, was fired on May 5 for refusing to manipulate date, Florida Today reported. The scientist was the Geographic Information Systems manager for the Florida Department of Health.

Jones emailed the publication to tell them the details of her ouster. She said that she created the entire portal herself, which contained six unique maps that could allow both Floridians and researchers to track the state’s coronavirus situation in real-time. She said that for 60 days, she never took a day off while creating all the code for the state’s informational Dashboard.

“I worked on it alone, sixteen hours a day for two months, most of which I was never paid for, and now that this has happened, I’ll probably never get paid for,” she wrote in the email.

Jones revealed that she refused to manually change the data to help provide support for opening things up in The Sunshine State. Late last week, the scientist also emailed other researchers and people who used the data to warn them that it might be changed or manipulated.

“They are making a lot of changes. I would advise being diligent in your respective uses of this data,” it read.

After receiving the email, many researchers worried that they might not obtain access to raw data. The Miami Herald reported that the email Jones sent also cautioned people using the data not to expect the same level of transparency or accessibility, and she noted that her commitment to both things is likely why she was fired from her position.

In 2018, Jones earned her doctorate in Geography from Florida State University. Since that time, she’d worked as both a geospatial analyst then moving to Geographic Information System (GIS) manager within the Department of Health. Her removal from the project seems unusual given that Dr. Deborah Birx, who is a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, praised the portal in April on the CBS program Face The Nation.

Governor Ron DeSantis reopened Florida, and he said that the data showed that the state had made progress in managing the novel coronavirus. However, throughout the past several weeks, Florida has been criticized for failing to provide access to certain information to the media as well as the state’s taxpayers, only relenting after lawsuits were filed. Initially, Florida’s numbers failed to include information about the rate of infection and death in nursing homes and prisons, among other things.

DeSantis’ spokeswoman, Helen Aguirre Ferré, provided a statement about the controversy.

“The Florida COVID-19 Dashboard was created by the Geographic Information System (GIS) team in the Division of Disease Control and Health Protection at the Florida Department of Health. Although Rebekah Jones is no longer involved, the GIS team continues to manage and update the Dashboard providing accurate and important information that is publicly accessible,” read the statement.