Sabotaging science

In case there was any doubt, the Union of Concerned Scientists has issued a report, “The state of science in the Trump era,” which is synopsized here. Not mincing any words, the report claims that the Trump administration has “sidelin[ed] science in critical decisionmaking, compromising our nation’s ability to meet current and future public health and environmental challenges.” Fortunately, “Sustained pressure from scientists and their allies,” they say, “has played a key role in preventing or restraining some of the worst abuses.”

How, according to UCS, does the administration operate? First, it sidelines “expertise and independent science advice” by shutting out scientists in various ways, suppressing scientific results that it does not like, and “allowing political appointees to review” the awarding of scientific grants. Further, the administration compromises what UCS calls public protections by ignoring or even suppressing global warming, weakening protections against environmental hazards, and indeed ignoring environmental science. Additionally, the administration restricts communication by blacklisting certain terminology, omitting important facts from news releases, blocking scientists from attending conferences, and limiting the availability of scientific data.

Finally, according to the synopsis, UCS outlines what it calls “A roadmap for the 116th Congress.” The roadmap optimistically calls for investigating the damage caused by anti-scientific attitudes and “strengthening science-based laws and programs”; investigating corporate influence and passing reform measures; and “passing legislation to strengthen scientific integrity at federal agencies.”

As if by magic, shortly after I finished reading the UCS synopsis, I came across an article, White House recruits researchers for “adversarial” climate science review, by Scott Waldman. Specifically, the administration is convening some kind of ad hoc committee “to conduct an ‘adversarial scientific peer review’ of climate science.” According to the article, which appeared originally in E&E News, people who have been contacted to serve on the committee come from “the relatively small number of researchers with legitimate academic credentials who question the notion that humans are warming the planet at a rapid pace through the burning of fossil fuels.” In starker terms, global-warming deniers.

We do not know the exact composition of the committee but Mr. Waldman optimistically remarks, “It’s possible the review will also include scientists who agree with the vast majority in the field of climate science….” I am somewhat less optimistic, particularly in view of a footnote which points out that if the committee is an ad hoc group, then it is exempt “from federal rules requiring advisory panels to have a balanced membership, issue public notice of meetings, and make some of its deliberations and products accessible to the public.” Additionally, and I will not go into detail, the chairman-designate of the committee is associated with a group, the CO2 Coalition, which is dedicated to educating us about the contribution made by carbon dioxide. The Heartland Institute, however, will be excluded from the committee.

Meanwhile, scientists who are actually working on global warming argue that the evidence has hit the “gold standard,” according to a Reuters dispatch by their environment correspondent, Alister Doyle. As a person who spent half a career fighting off systematic uncertainties, I have my doubts about the (any) 5-sigma confidence interval, which means virtual certainty, but I think probably the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt at 95-99 % (approximately 2-3 sigma) confidence, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change opted in favor of 95 % confidence a full 6 years ago.