A Florida-based scientist was fired for refusing to censor some data while creating applications, dashboards, and maps so Floridians could see the COVID-19 situation in real-time.  

On May 5, Rebekah Jones was removed from her position as Geographic Information Systems manager and was fired by the Department of Health. Jones said the dashboard she developed covered half a million lines of data. However, she was dismissed after she refused to manipulate some data to support the re-opening of Florida.

“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 said. She confirmed that after not being reassigned on May 5, the Florida Department of Health officially dismissed her from her job as Geographic Information Systems manager.

Jones suggested that her dismissal was politically motivated, saying that she was ordered to manually change some data from the dashboard “to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” On Friday, she also warned researchers and data users that changes were likely to come to the accessibility and transparency of the dashboard data following her removal.

“They are making a lot of changes,” she said. “I would advise being diligent in your respective uses of this data,” she added. Jones’ statement came as a shock to researchers, who said that Jones’ removal could be evidence that the Gov. Ron De Santis’ government was indeed trying to manipulate information to support its plan to re-open Florida.

In a statement, Governor Ron DeSantis’ spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre denied Jones’ claims and said the dashboard continues to reflect factual information. She also claimed that the dashboard was being managed by the GIS team, not by Jones alone. “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,” she said.

Contrary to Ferre’s claim, however, Jones’ emails through April showed that the dismissed scientist single-handedly managed every line of code in the dashboard. Her emails revealed that she was the only person responding to feedback from researchers in a bid to update the dashboard with new data.

COVID-19 COVID-19 around the world. Photo by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay