Government research bodies are going dark.

That’s in the “radio silence” sense, not in the sense of “shuttering their windows” or “turning bleak.” Not yet, anyway. Buzzfeed reported today the United States Department of Agriculture’s research branch has been instructed to stop communicating with the public:

According to an email sent Monday morning and obtained by BuzzFeed News, the department told staff — including some 2,000 scientists — at the agency’s main in-house research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), to stop communicating with the public about taxpayer-funded work.

“Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents,” Sharon Drumm, chief of staff for ARS, wrote in a department-wide email shared with BuzzFeed News.

“This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content,” she added.

The memo was also met with some confusion. When asked if the notice constituted a halt on the publication of academic articles, one regional director told scientists that research papers could be published in academic journals and presented at conferences, but that all media interviews must be approved by the office of communications in Washington.

Though some Agricultural Research Service work touches on sensitive subjects like pesticides and genetically modified food, its research is generally less politically charged than that conducted by other agencies, especially those focused on understanding climate change, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Realistically, this (and similar actions at EPA and National Park Service) seems to be little more than an invitation to form unofficial, leak-friendly channels of communication.

But there’s more on some of the less-pleasant implications – especially for science news – at Popular Science.

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