Rebekah Jones breaks silence on firing from Florida DOH, says firing a ‘badge of honor’
The announcement comes after the embattled former data scientist was kicked off Twitter. Image via Rebekah Jones.

Jones
Rebekah Jones had her say on CNN Friday.

The long and winding road that is the Rebekah Jones narrative continued Friday, with the former state employee saying her firing was a “badge of honor.”

The comments were made Friday on CNN in an interview with host Chris Cuomo.

“If refusing to mislead the public during a health crisis is insubordination, then I will wear that badge with honor,” Jones said.

Earlier in the week, Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted Jones at a press availability, reinforcing the narrative that she was let go for good reason.

DeSantis disparaged her, saying she’s “not even a data scientist … not involved in collating data, she lacks the expertise to do that. She is not an epidemiologist. She is not the chief architect of our web portal, that’s another false statement.”

The Governor noted that she had a history of bucking superiors in her recent duties.

“What she was doing was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data,” DeSantis said. “So she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors. She had many people above her in the chain of command.”

During the interview with Cuomo, Jones gave her side of the story regarding the data, in which she said she was asked to alter presentation because higher-ups “did not like the results.”

“The results didn’t match the report for reopening that had already been written. Basically a lot of rural counties for a wide range of reasons, didn’t meet the criteria that the state had outlined in order to qualify for reopening. Whereas some more populated counties did meet that criteria, and I was told that specifically, and this is a quote, ‘We can’t tell Jackson and Franklin counties that they can’t reopen, but Broward and Miami-Dade can’.”

The Governor, in comments throughout the coronavirus crisis, stressed the preponderance of positive tests in Southeast Florida counties, but relatively little was said about the issue in rural counties except relative to prison and nursing home outbreaks.

Jones, for her part, issued a statement saying that the Governor did not order her to “manipulate, delete and hide data.”

” I’m just a scientist trying to do good in the world, and did not want to be at the center of a national controversy, which the Governor made impossible when he defamed me in front of the vice president of the United States,” she protested.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


11 comments

  • MediaPolitics

    May 23, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Leave it to CNN and Chris Cuomo, to give a woman like this a platform to spew her nonsense.

    Gov. Cuomo’s brother Chris, was thrilled to deflect from his brother’s failure in New York, and to turn the focus on Gov. DeSantis, who saved many lives in Florida.

    People are fired from jobs all the time. I suspect that many are fired by Democrats and not just by Republicans. But, it seems the media’s interest is only on those fired by Republicans.

    Worse though, is the fact that the media does not bother to investigate the stories, before they are aired.

    The credo of the lapdog media today, is that if it makes Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, or any other Republican look bad, run with it regardless of facts or truth. But, if it is a Democrat who is pointed out in the same way…ignore it!

    There should be a law, requiring media to file as agents of a political party, if they want to have such slanted views.

  • Ward Posey

    May 23, 2020 at 10:19 am

    I would not believe “Lying Ron” if my life depended on it. The phony vet, supports a draft dodger and is as corrupt as they come.

    • I'm all ears

      May 26, 2020 at 9:12 am

      Ooh, this is a new one. How is he a “phony vet”?

  • ItsTimeforTruth

    May 23, 2020 at 10:34 am

    Remarkable that the MediaPolitics comment above is more to point than the article by a person who calls himself a journalist.

    Let me highlight the points.

    1) CNN has yet to discuss with any journalistic integrity the policy adopted by New York’s Governor Cuomo, that allowed nearly 5,000 nursing home deaths.

    2) Comparisons by the media between the actions of Governor DeSantis and Governor Cuomo never point out that the Florida policies saved lives and the leadership from DeSantis has brought Florida to safer place.

    3) Those media outlets that have become the propaganda arm of the Democrat party embrace questionable characters and promote narratives, whether true or false, that paints any Republican as bad and any Democrat as good.

    That kind of media is becoming more and more irrelevant, and you Mr. Gancarski, should not call yourself a journalist if you are not willing to research the truth before you present opinion as fact.

    • Tjb

      May 23, 2020 at 12:14 pm

      Thank god we have OAN and Fox News. They never let facts get in the way of their reporting.

    • Frankie M.

      May 23, 2020 at 3:01 pm

      If you don’t like the message attack the messenger…classic!

  • Frankie M.

    May 23, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    “Badge of honor” is a term I’m hearing alot lately. Ronnie DeSantis seems to have learned alot about this woman after having “no idea who she was” a few days ago. The smear campaign is in full effect from the bully pulpit and there are those who wouldn’t like to hear her side of the story because it doesn’t fit into their narrative. As we have already seen guvmint is no place for truthtellers, ideologues, and whistleblowers.

    • ItsTimeforTruth

      May 24, 2020 at 1:14 pm

      Frankie M. You begin your disparaging remarks about the Governor by calling him Ronnie. Then go on to talk about smear campaigns, really? Why can’t we have legitimate discussions about what is really happening? It has become so disgusting.

      I assume from your remarks that “guvment” is what you call your state or nation when it is led by a Republican. If that is the case then there are no issues only your opinion or those who are wrong because they don’t agree with you.

      It gets tiresome.

      • Frankie M.

        May 24, 2020 at 2:39 pm

        You are entitled to your wrong opinion.

  • Frankie M.

    May 24, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    Something else to consider. Donations welcome!

    Bek Jones
    Public Statement
    An Author An Author
    2 days ago
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    GOFUNDME

    Statement issued by Rebekah Jones for public release

    Governor DeSantis’ office rightfully faces tough questions from the public, press, and state and federal lawmakers regarding data transparency following a series of public missteps and controversies, including my removal from the dashboard and associated data I built and managed for the Florida Department of Health.

    Historical data has been removed or become inaccessible, and researchers are now being told they won’t be given access to data previously published for at least another year. The dashboard I built and managed for months continues to crash under its new management, with data going missing or showing questionable numbers, and the interface itself constantly glitching and disabling features. Reports of mismanagement and misleading numbers plague an office I once helped establish as the gold standard for public data sharing.

    I never stated nor implied that the Governor was involved with asking me to manipulate, delete and hide data. I never suggested any conspiracy directly involving the Governor. I have not done any public interviews, never intended to speak publicly with any members of the press, and this is my first public statement since being thrust into the national news by no choice of my own. I indeed did try to persuade the first reporters who contacted me to not publish any stories about my emails or about me while I fielded job offers from across the country. I’m just a scientist trying to do good in the world, and did not want to be at the center of a national controversy, which the Governor made impossible when he defamed me in front of the vice president of the United States.

    Until last week, I was proud of Florida’s response efforts, and our team’s widely successful actions that indeed helped Florida defy the earliest, worst-case-scenario models. I celebrated our response efforts and response team with technical experts and leaders across the country when asked about the dashboard I created. I even praised DeSantis as a governor who let the experts lead the response efforts I’ve worked in the past, including hurricanes Michael and Dorian. To see the Governor now make false statements about my academic record and my personal life is a stark contradiction to what I’ve observed from him in the past. To try to give others the credit for the work I did, work he and even the White House praised just weeks ago, and his shocking and salacious attempt at character assassination through the mainstream media, feels like a cheap political move to avoid discussing the real story here, which is how the COVID-19 data is now being manipulated.

    I am proud of those who know me and those in my scientific community who have reached out to me and have been brave enough to speak out and hit back at the Governor’s false accusations, both professional and personal, including the American Association of Geographers (AAG) and the American Statistical Association (ASA).

    The Governor has called into question my role in creating the dashboard, and I would like to speak out on this ridiculous and false media narrative he has now inflamed.

    While no one operates without the support of their team, I was the sole architect and manager of the dashboard and its published underlying data. I wrote the script in R to pull, analyze, process and format the raw data from queried data in Merlin, which is the case database managed by epidemiologists and data scientists working tirelessly across the state. I processed hundreds of thousands of lines of raw data to produce the data I published on the dashboard and on the DOH website. Working with a developer from ESRI, I wrote the Python code to push the data from our secure servers to our web interface. I designed the public- facing dashboard literally and completely alone. Every box, every graphic and chart, all of the maps, the API feeds, the Open Data Hub that housed the data, the HTML to customize the dashboard, all built by me and me alone, most days working from before my kids woke up each morning until long after they went to sleep each night.

    I used skills learned through my bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies in climate science, geospatial science and communications to take raw data, analyze it, prepare and format it, and publish it for our residents in an easy to understand and authoritative web resource. I answered every email I received regarding accessing, understanding and using the data, some days hundreds of emails from the public, press and researchers in Florida and beyond. I fixed every bug in the code, made sure anyone using our data feeds knew of any changes I was making to the data schema, and kept the system running for nearly two months with minimal issues and interruptions. I did as best as anyone could by themselves in designing and managing such a massive system. I was the only one at DOH at that time who had the skillset to complete the entire process alone from start to finish, but managing this project by myself was not ideal and left me exhausted from the long hours and hard work. Like many of us who have been working remotely or isolating ourselves for safety, I missed working with my team and colleagues on a variety of projects, from emergency planning to environmental health, and I missed spending time with my family as I worked on this important project.

    I received national acclaim for my work on the dashboard, including an article featured on the website of ESRI, the software company used for all of our GIS analysis and research projects. Dr. Deborah Birx praised my dashboard in multiple interviews. My dashboard was being hailed by FEMA as a shining example of effective communication and data transparency. I threw a small party with my DOH coworkers when the dashboard hit 100 million views, and even brought cake to share with the equally exhausted data scientists I had gotten to know during coronavirus. Everything had been going well until I started receiving requests to edit, change and hide data from its original format and information.

    The Deputy Secretary of Health, Shamarial Roberson, asked me to manipulate and delete data in late April as work for the state’s reopening plan started to take off, and she is the one who ordered me off the dashboard and fired me when I objected to repeated requests to manually alter, hide and delete public data. All of this is provable through email and texts, which are subject to public records request. The details of what I was asked to do and how the data was eventually changed will likely be made public in the coming months as state and federal investigations and testimony unfold.

    Scott Pritchard, one of the epidemiologists on our response team, asked me on May 4 to hide all of the data from the public and make it inaccessible for anyone to download and, consequently, analyze or check for accuracy. As the manager of Geographic Information Science for all of the Florida Department of Health, Pritchard was never in a position of authority over me. When I pushed back, stating plainly that transparency was something I worked very hard for on my dashboard, Pritchard went around me and asked my supervisor to order me to delete and hide the data. When I received that instruction, I did as ordered, but not without voicing my concern and disagreement beforehand. Once they realized how much of a mistake it was to intentionally hide and delete data, they asked me to put it back up, and I did so immediately, without any data being altered or changed in any way. No question about the data’s accuracy was ever brought to my attention, as Pritchard clearly stated that the data wasn’t wrong, he just didn’t want to have to answer questions about it that would make him, DOH or the state look bad. I made multiple, vocal objections to hiding data to spite the public or the press, and even my supervisor tried to explain to Pritchard, Blackmore and Roberson how all of the data could easily be pulled from the dashboard itself by any half-decent programmer. Even though I made those changes as instructed, because I was the only person with access to the dashboard or its data to do so, I was removed from the dashboard the next day.

    The only directive I refused was to manually change data in a misleading way to drum up public support of resuming pre-pandemic level of activities without a science- based assessment of each county’s respective risk or readiness to do so. The request to mislead the public with falsified data made me uneasy, and I immediately reached out to my supervisor, as well as my friends and family, about what happened. It was no secret in our office that Shamarial Roberson asked me to compromise my integrity and use my dashboard to mislead the public about the safety of reopening each county. I had never in my academic or professional career as a scientist been asked to manipulate data to influence public opinion, and I am still caught in disbelief that this person remains employed by DOH, while I have been wrongfully terminated and defamed by the Governor and state employees.

    I did what any scientist would when asked to do something wrong – I said no and I made clear that I would not participate in any research or activity using misleading data that could get people sick or worse.

    Geographers, scientists and data analysts like myself have been critical to the COVID-19 response since the beginning. Epidemiology was founded and remains a critical subfield within geography since the day John Snow mapped the Broad Street Pump and into the twenty-first century and COVID-19. By disparaging my education, experience and dedication to my job, the Governor insults every scientist, data analyst, and first responder who has been working this response effort with no breaks, no rest, no recognition since the start.

    I am blessed to have the support of my family and community, and would like every scientist out there to know that you are needed, trusted and invaluable, even if no one understands or appreciates your tireless efforts, or the sacrifices you have made for the greater good.

    My former colleagues with knowledge of these events may be afraid of being caught up in the media storm that has taken over my life this week, and fear the repercussions to their job and safety if they choose to speak up. I would never ask anyone to intentionally insert themselves in a national controversy, but that was not a choice I was given, and while I hope you consider doing the right thing, I also hope you are at peace with whatever decision you ultimately make

    I ask that all parties respect my family’s privacy at this time, and encourage fair and rigorous investigation of these events through the proper channels.

    GOFUNDME

Comments are closed.


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