An uprising among scientists

Climate Central reports: The current political climate has spurred a growing cadre of scientists to emerge from their labs, offices and fieldwork sites to contest an administration that’s openly hostile to scientific inquiry — particularly when it comes to climate change — and coined the term “alternative facts.”

“We’ve tried to let our data do the talking for us and that has failed miserably,” Kim Cobb, a coral researcher at Georgia Tech, said.

Scientists staged a thousand-strong rally in Boston during the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in late February. Much bigger protests are afoot with the March for Science and its 190 satellite marches planned for April 22. Scientists are also organizing support groups and many have said they are considering running for public office.

The current wave of scientific discontent has the makings of a budding movement. But whether it moves the political dial like the Tea Party or fizzles out like Occupy Wall Street remains to be seen.

Scientists in the streets is not a new thing. They rallied around nuclear disarmament during the Cold War, but they also weren’t the main component of that movement. That makes the current groundswell of scientists leading their own charge a different proposition.

The March for Science is the most visible piece of the new movement, with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, a private planning Facebook group with more than 837,000 members and more than 50,000 volunteers. The march has the potential to go down as one of the largest mass mobilizations by scientists in history. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

When Earth became a ‘mote of dust’

Shannon Stirone writes: We glimpsed Earth’s curvature in 1946, via a repurposed German V-2 rocket that flew 65 miles above the surface. Year-by-year, we climbed a little higher, engineering a means to comprehend the magnitude of our home.

In 1968, Apollo 8 lunar module pilot William Anders captured the iconic Earthrise photo. We contemplated the beauty of our home.

But on Valentine’s Day 27 years ago, Voyager 1, from 4 billion miles away, took one final picture before switching off its camera forever. In the image, Earth, Carl Sagan said, was merely “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” So we pondered the insignificance of our home. The image inspired Sagan to write his book “The Pale Blue Dot,” and it continues to cripple human grandiosity. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Thrilling discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby star

 

The Guardian reports: A huddle of seven worlds, all close in size to Earth, and perhaps warm enough for water and the life it can sustain, has been spotted around a small, faint star in the constellation of Aquarius.

The discovery, which has thrilled astronomers, has raised hopes that the hunt for alien life beyond the solar system could start much sooner than previously thought, with the next generation of telescopes that are due to switch on in the next decade.

It is the first time that so many Earth-sized planets have been found in orbit around the same star, an unexpected haul that suggests the Milky Way may be teeming with worlds that, in size and firmness underfoot at least, resemble our own rocky home.

The planets closely circle a dwarf star named Trappist-1, which at 39 light years away makes the system a prime candidate to search for signs of life. Only marginally larger than Jupiter, the star shines with a feeble light about 2,000 times fainter than our sun. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Canadian scientists were followed, threatened and censored. They warn that Trump could do the same

Avi Selk writes: The Environmental Protection Agency’s once-prolific Twitter account has not stirred since Inauguration Day. Neither has its blog, where staff used to write often about the agency’s research, regulations and “Why Science Matters” — as one of the last entries put it.

Both have been dark since President Trump took over the White House, not long after telling a reporter “nobody really knows” whether Earth’s climate is changing. His administration almost immediately moved to restrict scientific departments across the federal government from talking to the media and the public.

White House officials have denied trying to censor public research bodies. Their counterparts in Canada denied the same several years ago — as scientists in that country reported that government minders were following them around, listening in on them and threatening them for speaking out of turn in public.

Now, some who worked in government during former prime minister Stephen Harper’s years in power are warning Americans to expect their own regime of censored science.

“In Harper’s era, it was open warfare with the media,” Max Bothwell, an environmental scientist for the Canadian government, told Smithsonian Magazine. “I suspect something similar is about to happen in the U.S.”

Bothwell, who specializes in the seemingly apolitical study of rock algae, told the outlet about a local radio station’s request to interview him in 2013.

He said he had to ask permission through an array of “media control” bureaucrats that Harper had installed.

He got it, under one condition: “Unbeknownst to the Canadian radio listeners, the media control staffers would be listening in on the phone line, as well,” Smithsonian wrote. Bothwell refused. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump has not yet chosen a science advisor

Time reports: President Trump has issued a series of executive actions linked to a range of scientific issues since taking office earlier this month, but he has yet to name a science advisor.

Formally known as the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the science advisor is responsible for consulting with scientists inside and outside of government to ensure the President has the best available information on any policy issue related to science.

OSTP and the science advisor role have not been a priority for the Trump White House with the position still open and no indications that a nomination is coming soon. The transition team only held one meeting with the office before Trump became president, according to John Holdren, Obama’s OSTP director. That meeting—attended by a single transition staffer—lasted one hour and took place a week prior to inauguration, Holdren said.

“He seemed positive and enthusiastic about the mission of OSTP as we explained it,” Holdren said of the meeting with the transition team. “But I have not had any further contact.” The White House did not reply to a request for comment Monday, and the presidential transition team did not reply to a request on the same topic in December.

Several controversial names have appeared as potential science advisors including Yale University computer scientist David Gelernter and Princeton University physicist William Happer. Both are respected in their fields, but deny the science of climate change. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

That the world is not solid but made up of tiny particles is a very ancient insight

Carlo Rovelli writes: According to tradition, in the year 450 BCE, a man embarked on a 400-mile sea voyage from Miletus in Anatolia to Abdera in Thrace, fleeing a prosperous Greek city that was suddenly caught up in political turmoil. It was to be a crucial journey for the history of knowledge. The traveller’s name was Leucippus; little is known about his life, but his intellectual spirit proved indelible. He wrote the book The Great Cosmology, in which he advanced new ideas about the transient and permanent aspects of the world. On his arrival in Abdera, Leucippus founded a scientific and philosophical school, to which he soon affiliated a young disciple, Democritus, who cast a long shadow over the thought of all subsequent times.

Together, these two thinkers have built the majestic cathedral of ancient atomism. Leucippus was the teacher. Democritus, the great pupil who wrote dozens of works on every field of knowledge, was deeply venerated in antiquity, which was familiar with these works. ‘The most subtle of the Ancients,’ Seneca called him. ‘Who is there whom we can compare with him for the greatness, not merely of his genius, but also of his spirit?’ asks Cicero.

What Leucippus and Democritus had understood was that the world can be comprehended using reason. They had become convinced that the variety of natural phenomena must be attributable to something simple, and had tried to understand what this something might be. They had conceived of a kind of elementary substance from which everything was made. Anaximenes of Miletus had imagined this substance could compress and rarefy, thus transforming from one to another of the elements from which the world is constituted. It was a first germ of physics, rough and elementary, but in the right direction. An idea was needed, a great idea, a grand vision, to grasp the hidden order of the world. Leucippus and Democritus came up with this idea.

The idea of Democritus’s system is extremely simple: the entire universe is made up of a boundless space in which innumerable atoms run. Space is without limits; it has neither an above nor a below; it is without a centre or a boundary. Atoms have no qualities at all, apart from their shape. They have no weight, no colour, no taste. ‘Sweetness is opinion, bitterness is opinion; heat, cold and colour are opinion: in reality only atoms, and vacuum,’ said Democritus. Atoms are indivisible; they are the elementary grains of reality, which cannot be further subdivided, and everything is made of them. They move freely in space, colliding with one another; they hook on to and push and pull one another. Similar atoms attract one another and join.

This is the weave of the world. This is reality. Everything else is nothing but a by-product – random and accidental – of this movement, and this combining of atoms. The infinite variety of the substances of which the world is made derives solely from this combining of atoms. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump administration imposes gag order on federal scientists

BuzzFeed reports: The US Department of Agriculture has banned scientists and other employees in its main research division from publicly sharing everything from the summaries of scientific papers to USDA-branded tweets as it starts to adjust to life under the Trump administration, BuzzFeed News has learned.

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. [Continue reading…]

Huffington Post reports: The Environmental Protection Agency has frozen its grant programs, according to sources there.

EPA staff has been instructed to freeze all its grants ― an extensive program that includes funding for research, redevelopment of former industrial sites, air quality monitoring and education, among other things ― and told not to discuss this order with anyone outside the agency, according to a Hill source with knowledge of the situation.

An EPA staffer provided the information to the congressional office anonymously, fearing retaliation. [Continue reading…]

Mashable reports: The communications ban directly contradicts scientific integrity policies at each agency that highlight the importance of communication between the public and agencies that are spending tax dollars to conduct government research.

The opening paragraph of the EPA’s integrity policy says it is designed to “promote scientific and ethical standards,” including “communications with the public.” It goes on to add that the policy “prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.” [Continue reading…]

Scientific American reports: The administration’s latest actions resemble steps taken in Canada by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper while in office from 2006 to 2015; his administration blocked government scientists from speaking with media and explaining their research. Several weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Canadian scientists interviewed by Scientific American warned their U.S. counterparts about the threat of similar restrictions.

“There was a feeling that the government was not interested in expert opinion, and I think it’s the same kind of thing that you are probably going to see with the new [Trump] administration” in the U.S., David Tarasick, a senior research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada (the equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), said last month. Harper’s move drove some Canadian scientists to leave the country to pursue their research. After Harper was voted out Canadian federal scientists last year worked with their union to ensure their contracts would enshrine their ability to speak with the media and the public about their work. [Continue reading…]

Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists writes: Clean air and clean water are not just “nice to have.”

Pollutants like smog, ozone, and mercury contribute to worsening asthma attacks (especially in young children), heart and lung ailments, and even premature death. What’s more, pollution imposes billions of dollars in costs to the economy in terms of hospital and other health costs, lost work days, lost school days, and other burdens, in addition to pain and suffering.

The EPA was established nearly 50 years ago, under President Nixon, with a mission to protect human health and the environment. Since then, across Republican and Democratic administrations, it has played an important role in responding to environmental disasters, from the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident to the catastrophic 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee.

Equally important, the EPA has worked to implement major environmental laws passed by Congress, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which have helped to significantly to drive down harmful pollution and improve the health of Americans.

We need only look to the air quality in Beijing or New Delhi to understand where our country would be without these fundamental protections. Americans need and depend on the EPA to be our watchdog and guardian. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

As Trump takes power, scientists scramble to secure wildlife data

Jimmy Tobias writes: In recent weeks, archivists, academics, and other ardent information activists have frantically sought to preserve and protect federal climate science before Donald Trump takes power in Washington. Leading the way is the University of Pennsylvania’s DataRefuge project, which is conducting a nationwide campaign to save and copy massive government data sets that contain critical information about our changing climate. Leaders of this effort fear that such data could disappear from federal websites when the president-elect’s administration gains control of government agencies.

But climate science isn’t the only potential victim. DataRefuge organizers, along with allies like the Union of Concerned Scientists, are equally worried about other forms of federal environmental research.

“There is no reason to think its efforts would be restricted to climate data alone,” says Gretchen Goldman, the research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy.

Goldman stresses the vulnerability of wildlife science, particularly research by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that pertains to endangered, threatened, or otherwise imperiled species. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How a bias toward English-language science can result in preventable crises

Ben Panko writes: Thirteen years ago, a deadly strain of avian flu known as H5N1 was tearing through Asia’s bird populations. In January 2004, Chinese scientists reported that pigs too had become infected with the virus—an alarming development, since pigs are susceptible to human viruses and could potentially act as a “mixing vessel” that would allow the virus to jump to humans. “Urgent attention should be paid to the pandemic preparedness of these two subtypes of influenza,” the scientists wrote in their study.

Yet at the time, little attention was paid outside of China—because the study was published only in Chinese, in a small Chinese journal of veterinary medicine.

It wasn’t until August of that year that the World Health Organization and the United Nations learned of the study’s results and rushed to have it translated. Those scientists and policy makers ran headlong into one of science’s biggest unsolved dilemmas: language. A new study in the journal PLOS Biology sheds light on how widespread the gulf can be between English-language science and any-other-language science, and how that gap can lead to situations like the avian flu case, or worse. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Obama vs Trump — academic journals vs Twitter

The Associated Press reports: President Barack Obama cast the adoption of clean energy in the U.S. as “irreversible,” putting pressure Monday on President-elect Donald Trump not to back away from a core strategy to fight climate change.

Obama, penning an opinion article in the journal Science, sought to frame the argument in a way that might appeal to the president-elect: in economic terms. He said the fact that the cost and polluting power of energy have dropped at the same time proves that fighting climate change and spurring economic growth aren’t mutually exclusive.

“Despite the policy uncertainty that we face, I remain convinced that no country is better suited to confront the climate challenge and reap the economic benefits of a low-carbon future than the United States,” Obama wrote.

He peppered his article with subtle references to Trump, noting that the debate about future climate policy was “very much on display during the current presidential transition.”

As he prepares to transfer power to Trump, Obama has turned to an unusual format to make his case to Trump to preserve his policies: academic journals. In the last week, Obama also published articles under his name in the Harvard Law Review about his efforts on criminal justice reform and in the New England Journal of Medicine defending his health care law, which Republicans are poised to repeal.

The articles reflect an effort by Obama to pre-empt the arguments Trump or Republicans are likely to employ as they work to roll back Obama’s key accomplishments in the coming years. Yet it’s unclear whether Trump or the GOP could be swayed by scholarly arguments in relatively obscure publications. [Continue reading…]

At tomorrow’s press conference, Donald Trump is sure to be asked for clarification on questions raised by his recent tweets.

On the other hand, “Did you read any of President Obama’s recent articles in Science, the Harvard Law Review, or the New England Journal of Medicine, Mr Trump?” is an unlikely question.

But on the off-chance something along those lines does come up, Trump is likely to wave it off with something like this: “I’m happy for President Obama to write for academics while I work for the American people.”

It would be understandable if Obama feels like he’s served his time and is now entitled to a quiet life, but I hope he does the opposite — that he doesn’t withdraw to an ivory tower but instead lends his voice (more than his pen) to active and engaged opposition to what promises to be the worst presidency in American history. Writing for academic journals, however, is preaching to the choir.

Scientific challenges against an anti-science president and an anti-science political party are going to get parried by the same expression of mock humility — “I’m not a scientist, but…” — a line that resonates well in a scientifically illiterate nation.

Facebooktwittermail

Spontaneity is at the heart of science

Henry Cowles writes: There is a theory in psychology called the theory theory. It’s a theory about theories. While this might sound obvious, the theory theory leads to counterintuitive conclusions. A quarter-century ago, psychologists began to point out important links between the development of scientific theories and how everyday thinking, including children’s thinking, works. According to theory theorists, a child learns by constructing a theory of the world and testing it against experience. In this sense, children are little scientists – they hypothesise on the basis of observations, test their hypotheses experimentally, and then revise their views in light of the evidence they gather.

According to Alison Gopnik, a theory theorist at the University of California, Berkeley, the analogy works both ways. It’s not just that ‘children are little scientists’, she wrote in her paper ‘The Scientist as Child’ (1996), ‘but that scientists are big children.’ Depending on where you look, you can see the scientific method in a child, or spot the inner child in a scientist. Either way, the theory theory makes it easy to see connections between elementary learning and scientific theorising.

This should be pretty surprising. After all, scientists go through a lot of training in order to think the way they do. Their results are exact; their methods exacting. Most of us share the sense that scientific thinking is difficult, even for scientists. This perceived difficulty has bolstered (at least until recently) the collective respect for scientific expertise on which the support of cutting-edge research depends. It’s also what gives the theory theory its powerful punch. If science is so hard, how can children – and, some theory theorists argue, even infants – think like scientists in any meaningful sense? Indeed, in the age of what Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes call “the merchants of doubt” (not to say in the age of Trump), isn’t it dangerous to suggest that science is a matter of child’s play?

To gain purchase on this question, let’s take a step back. Claims that children are scientists rest on a certain idea about what science is. For theory theorists – and for many of the rest of us – science is about producing theories. How we do that is often represented as a short list of steps, such as ‘observe’, ‘hypothesise’, and ‘test’, steps that have been emblazoned on posters and recited in debates for the past century. But where did this idea that science is a set of steps – a method – come from? As it turns out, we don’t need to go back to Isaac Newton or the Scientific Revolution to find the history of ‘the scientific method’ in this sense. The image of science that most of us hold, even most scientists, comes from a surprising place: modern child psychology. The scientific method as we know it today comes from psychological studies of children only a century ago. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Earth’s oceans are steadily warming

Robinson Meyer writes: It’s sometimes said that modern science spends too much time on the documentation of a new trend and too little time on the replication of old ones. A new paper published Wednesday in the open-access journal Science Advances is important just because it does the latter. In fact, it sheds light on the scientific process in action—and also reveals how climate-change denialists can muddy that process.

Here’s the big takeaway from the new study: Across the planet, the ocean surface has been warming at a relatively steady clip over the past 50 years.

This warming trend shows up whether the ocean is measured by buoy, by satellite, or by autonomous floating drone. It also shows up in the global temperature dataset created and maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In fact, the warming shows up in both datasets in essentially the same way. This is important because it confirms the integrity of the NOAA dataset — and adds further evidence to the argument that ocean temperatures have steadily warmed this century without a significant slowdown.

“Our results essentially confirm that NOAA got it right,” says Zeke Hausfather, a researcher and economist at the University of California Berkeley. “They weren’t cooking the books. They weren’t bowing to any political pressure to find results that show extra warming. They were a bunch of scientists trying their hardest to work with messy data.”

Here’s why the finding matters: In June 2015, NOAA published an update to its long-running dataset of historical global temperatures. Thomas Karl, the director of the National Centers for Environmental Information, and his colleagues at NOAA explained in a paper in Science that the old database had a critical flaw. In trying to merge temperature readings taken by ships and buoys, NOAA had been allowing “cooling bias” to seep into its numbers.

In other words, NOAA’s global temperature estimates had been too low, and its measurement of climate change was too conservative. With this newly updated data in hand, Karl and his colleagues found there had been no slowdown in global warming during the 2000s.

NOAA’s new findings disagreed with those of the U.K. Met Office, whose widely used global temperature dataset does show a slowdown in the 2000s.

So: Was there a slowdown? This is an interesting problem of some scientific interest. Researchers have pointed to El Niño, to multiyear oceanic cycles, and to the post-Soviet reforestation of Russia as possible explanations for the change.

But here’s the thing: The slowdown, or lack thereof, never threw the larger phenomenon of human-caused climate change into question. In fact, even among the most conservative estimates, the globe kept warming right through the slowdown. The overwhelming consensus of Earth scientists is that the planet is harmfully warming due to human industrial activity. What’s more, if a slowdown did occur in the 2000s, it seems to have abated now. The previous three years — 2014, 2015, and 2016 — have all broken the record as the hottest year ever in the modern temperature record.

But this hasn’t seemed to matter in public debate, as climate-change denialists have found enormous success casting doubt on global warming by glomming onto this “slowdown” debate. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

NASA’s overlooked duty to look inward

Elisa Gabbert writes: In 1942, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote an essay called “The Image of Victory,” in which he asked what winning the Second World War, the “airman’s war,” would mean for posterity. MacLeish believed that pilots could do more than bring victory; by literally rising above the conflicts on the ground, they could also reshape our very understanding of the planet. “Never in all their history have men been able truly to conceive of the world as one: a single sphere, a globe, having the qualities of a globe, a round earth in which all the directions eventually meet, in which there is no center because every point, or none, is center — an equal earth which all men occupy as equals,” he wrote. The airplane, he felt, was both an engine of perspective and a symbol of unity.

MacLeish could not, perhaps, have imagined the sight of a truly whole Earth. But, twenty-six years after his essay appeared, the three-man crew of Apollo 8 reached the highest vantage point in history, becoming the first humans to witness Earth rising over the surface of the moon. The most iconic photograph of our planet, popularly known as “The Blue Marble,” was taken by their successors on Apollo 17, in 1972. In it, Earth appears in crisp focus, brightly lit, as in studio portraiture, against a black backdrop. The picture clicked with the cultural moment. As the neuroscientist Gregory Petsko observed, in 2011, in an essay on the consciousness-shifting power of images, it became a symbol of the budding environmentalist movement. “Our whole planet suddenly, in this image, seemed tiny, vulnerable, and incredibly lonely against the vast blackness of the cosmos,” Petsko wrote. “Regional conflict and petty differences could be dismissed as trivial compared with environmental dangers that threatened all of humanity.” Apollo 17 marked America’s last mission to the moon, and the last time that humans left Earth’s orbit.

It was always part of NASA’s mission to look inward, not just outward. The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which established the agency, claimed as its first objective “the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.” NASA’s early weather satellites were followed, in the seventies and eighties, by a slew of more advanced instruments, which supplied data on the ozone layer, crops and vegetation, and even insect infestations. They allowed scientists to recognize and measure the symptoms of climate change, and their decades’ worth of data helped the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conclude, in 2007, that global warming is “very likely” anthropogenic. According to a report released last month by NASA’s inspector general, the agency’s Earth Science Division helps commercial, government, and military organizations around the world locate areas at risk for storm-related flooding, predict malaria outbreaks, develop wildfire models, assess air quality, identify remote volcanoes whose toxic emissions contribute to acid rain, and determine the precise length of a day. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Why does NASA study Earth?

Learn more about NASA’s Earth science missions.

Facebooktwittermail

Donald Trump’s war on science

Lawrence M. Krauss writes: Last week, the Space, Science, and Technology subcommittee of the House of Representatives tweeted a misleading story from Breitbart News: “Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists.” (There is always some drop in temperature when El Niño transitions into La Niña — but there has been no anomalous plunge.) Under normal circumstances, this tweet wouldn’t be so surprising: Lamar Smith, the chair of the committee since 2013, is a well-known climate-change denier. But these are not normal times. The tweet is best interpreted as something new: a warning shot. It’s a sign of things to come — a declaration of the Trump Administration’s intent to sideline science.

In a 1946 essay, George Orwell wrote that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” It’s not just that we’re easily misled. It’s that, by “impudently twisting the facts,” we can convince ourselves of “things which we know to be untrue.” A whole society, he wrote, can deceive itself “for an indefinite time,” and the only check on that mass delusion is that “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality.” Science is one source of that solid reality. The Trump Administration seems determined to keep it at bay, and the consequences for society and the environment will be profound.

The first sign of Trump’s intention to spread lies about empirical reality, “1984”-style, was, of course, the appointment of Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network, as Trump’s “senior counselor and strategist.” This year, Breitbart hosted stories with titles such as “1001 Reasons Why Global Warming Is So Totally Over in 2016,” despite the fact that 2016 is now overwhelmingly on track to be the hottest year on record, beating 2015, which beat 2014, which beat 2013. Such stories do more than spread disinformation. Their purpose is the creation of an alternative reality — one in which scientific evidence is a sham — so that hyperbole and fearmongering can divide and conquer the public. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump questionnaire recalls dark history of ideology-driven science

By Paul N. Edwards, University of Michigan

President-elect Trump has called global warming “bullshit” and a “Chinese hoax.” He has promised to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate treaty and to “bring back coal,” the world’s dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuel. The incoming administration has paraded a roster of climate change deniers for top jobs. On Dec. 13, Trump named former Texas Governor Rick Perry, another climate change denier, to lead the Department of Energy (DoE), an agency Perry said he would eliminate altogether during his 2011 presidential campaign.

Just days earlier, the Trump transition team presented the DoE with a 74-point questionnaire that has raised alarm among employees because the questions appear to target people whose work is related to climate change.

For me, as a historian of science and technology, the questionnaire – bluntly characterized by one DoE official as a “hit list” – is starkly reminiscent of the worst excesses of ideology-driven science, seen everywhere from the U.S. Red Scare of the 1950s to the Soviet and Nazi regimes of the 1930s.

The questionnaire asks for a list of “all DoE employees or contractors” who attended the annual Conferences of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – a binding treaty commitment of the U.S., signed by George H. W. Bush in 1992. Another question seeks the names of all employees involved in meetings of the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon, responsible for technical guidance quantifying the economic benefits of avoided climate change.

It also targets the scientific staff of DoE’s national laboratories. It requests lists of all professional societies scientists belong to, all their publications, all websites they maintain or contribute to, and “all other positions… paid and unpaid,” which they may hold. These requests, too, are likely aimed at climate scientists, since most of the national labs conduct research related to climate change, including climate modeling, data analysis and data storage.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail