Trump administration demands pre-publication political review of scientific findings by the EPA

January 30, 2017 • 1:20 pm

When I used to get grants from government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, nobody, including the NIH itself, ever vetted my results. Although my research was funded by the taxpayers, I was free to disseminate it through publications, which were, of course, peer-reviewed. But they weren’t reviewed by the government.

That policy, however, apparently doesn’t apply when the taxpayer-funded research is actually done by government agencies themselves—at least not in this new administration. According to The Guardian and the New York Times (both are rewrites of Associated Press Reports), as well as other venues, the Trumpsters have put into play a new policy—one that demands that all scientific results released to the public first be vetted by POLITICIANS. As the NYT reports, this hold also applies to climate-change studies (my emphasis). Now the report is a bit unclear, as it implies that only existing data be vetted, while future work might not be. But that’s not clear, either. Make of the following what you will; I suspect the report is muddled because the administration’s policy isn’t yet settled.

From the NYT (all emphases mine):

The Trump administration is scrutinizing studies and data published by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, while new work is under a “temporary hold” before it can be released.

The communications director for President Donald Trump’s transition team at EPA, Doug Ericksen, said Wednesday the review extends to all existing content on the federal agency’s website, including details of scientific evidence showing that the Earth’s climate is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame.

Ericksen clarified his earlier statements he made to The Associated Press, which reported that the Trump administration was mandating that any studies or data from EPA scientists undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public. He said he was speaking about existing scientific information on the EPA website that is under review by members of the Trump administration’s transition team.

He said new work by the agency’s scientists is subject to the same “temporary hold” as other kinds of public releases, which he said would likely be lifted by Friday. He said there was no mandate to subject studies or data to political review.

The Guardian notes that these restrictions aren’t a continuation of Obama-administration policy, but are new:

Former EPA staffers said on Wednesday the restrictions imposed under Trump far exceed the practices of past administrations.

Ericksen said no orders have been given to strip mention of climate change from http://www.epa.gov, adding no decisions have yet been made.

“We’re taking a look at everything on a case-by-case basis, including the web page and whether climate stuff will be taken down,” Erickson said in an interview with the Associated Press. “Obviously with a new administration coming in, the transition time, we’ll be taking a look at the web pages and the Facebook pages and everything else involved here at EPA.”

Asked specifically about scientific data collected by agency scientists, such as routine monitoring of air and water pollution, Ericksen responded, “Everything is subject to review.”

Now we all know that Trump believes that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. What will the EPA do in light of that? We don’t know.

From the NYT:

Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, said during his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he disagreed with past statements by the president alleging that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to harm U.S. economic competitiveness. But like Trump, Pruitt has a long history of publicly questioning the validity of climate science.

William K. Reilly, who was EPA administrator under Republican President George H.W. Bush, said what seems to be happening with science at the agency is “going down a very dark road.”

The EPA’s 14-page scientific integrity document, enacted during the Obama administration, describes how scientific studies were to be conducted and reviewed in the agency. It said scientific studies should eventually be communicated to the public, the media and Congress “uncompromised by political or other interference.”

The scientific integrity document expressly “prohibits managers and other Agency leadership from intimidating or coercing scientists to alter scientific data, findings or professional opinions or inappropriately influencing scientific advisory boards.” It provides ways for employees who know the science to disagree with scientific reports and policies and offers them some whistleblower protection.

Well, we’ll see if the guidelines of that document stands up. Global warming is the greatest human-produced environmental challenge faced by this planet, and if we can’t trust the government to release what its scientists and monitors find, without editing or interference, we’re in for big trouble. I’m sure that if anything funny goes on, though, the scientists at the EPA (of which many must have integrity) will leak what’s going on.

h/t: Nicole Reggia

37 thoughts on “Trump administration demands pre-publication political review of scientific findings by the EPA

  1. Wow! So, then what happens? If a scientist finds something the Trump administration doesn’t like, will they make that scientist ‘disappear’? Like we’re already living in Russia!

    1. At least they haven’t appointed commissars to overlook all government activity to make sure it is politically correct, like in the Soviet Union. Yes, Trump did put Bannon on the Security Council, but I’m sure there was nothing political about that. Right?

  2. If their jobs are on the line and maybe other punishments, will they risk all that to give out the true information if the government changes it?

    1. I suspect that a significant number would. At least in the early days. If we actually do continue down the tin-pot dictator path then after enough scientists have been ruined, imprisoned and disappeared, no.

        1. True enough that the theoretical concept of corporate sympathy would help. Is that in the nature of private corporate tyrannies, which view flesh-and-blood human beings as human “resources” and “capital”? A corporate tyrant is now the U.S. president.

  3. If there is such an information shut-off, I wonder how much non-governmental research on AGW is being done. I’d be concerned there wouldn’t be nearly as much. Then we would have to rely on foreign governments to supply the data at whatever level they can.

  4. In Canada our previous PM Steven Harper (Conservative Party) tried doing this too, with some success. Fortunately, our new PM Justin Trudeau (Liberal Party) has reversed this already. One more thing to keep track of in the USA and undo at some time in the future.

    1. This was my number one reason (it was actually a fairly long list) that I did not vote for the Conservatives in the last election.

    2. And some US scientists are organizing right away and reaching out to Canadian scientists for help because the Canadian scientists have some experience resisting this.

    1. That’s why science has its own built in mechanisms to weed out bias. It doesn’t need political interference which usually isn’t anywhere near as successful as science in weeding out bias or fraud. Politicians are typically more interested in ideology than they are truth; science favours the reverse.

    2. “Only about 6% of scientists/researchers in this country are Republicans, so it’s not unreasonable to surmise that there might be some bias involved–or at least that an investigation might be in order.”

      What’s an investigation going to find out – that scientists are biassed towards verifiable facts and Rethuglicanism entails significant cognitive dissonance with that?

      cr

  5. This administration presents the perfect storm of government-slashers in congress and a truth-denier-in-chief in the White House.

    Gonna be a tough patch for the public dissemination of honest information — and for the commonweal more generally.

  6. Positive Outcome: Well I’ll be damned, Cimate Change is real, we should really do something about that.

    Negative Outcome: ALL THE SCIENTISTS LIED! But we aren’t going to show you the research.

    Likely Outcome: Err, there were some big words, and numbers everywhere with funny looking lines. We couldn’t get through the first paper.

  7. I suspect the report is muddled because the administration’s policy isn’t yet settled.

    Suspect more likely they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about, how science works, etc.

  8. In this administration, we have dummkopf Donald’s rejection of evidence for vaccination in addition to his climate change denial. We have putz Pence, a young earth creationist and cigarette smoking/lung cancer denialist. The two guys at the top who set the tone are both scientific nincompoops. As Neil Tyson puts it, tomorrow’s technology depends on today’s science.

  9. Well, we’ll see if the guidelines of that document stands up.

    Almost certainly not. Even if this administration wasn’t 180 degrees opposed to the last one, revising strategic documents is one of the most standard things new political appointees do. None of them want to be caretakers; they want to leave their mark. They do that by steering the agency in the direction they want it to go.

    1. I hope the March for Science does not turn into a demonstration about inclusivity in science. As important as that is, there are bigger issues right now. But from what I have seen it might be going that way.

      1. With creationists and climate change deniers in the White House scientists should be arguing for the scientific method instead of pandering to the angry-glacier, misogynist-carbon-fibre and wizard-lightning mob.

    2. And, wonder of wonders, every scientist in the march holds identical opinions about each of these “scientific issues.” It’s either that or get punched in the face. Good thing there’s no bias among scientists. Ain’t consensus grand?

    3. That’s disappointing; while all those topics are important, I’d have preferred if the march on science focused on the scientific issues and problems this administration is likely to ignore or make worse. Some thoughts (this is probably not comprehensive):
      1. Ecological preservation and the likely use of federal park land.
      2. Climate change science (across multiple agencies).
      3. Importance of earth science and why the reduction of NASA budget for earth science is a bad thing.
      4. DOE’s role in supporting energy efficiency and alternate energy sources (Perry will likely just hand lots of money to coal and oil industry)
      5. Importance of sound science in general, and evolution in particular, in education.
      6. Value of basic science as the long-term driver of national innovation and progress – and the need to have *scientists* evaluate project worthiness absent political biases or pressures.
      7. Impact of deregulated industry on pollution, fresh water quality and supply, etc.

      1. “I’d have preferred if the march on science focused on the scientific issues”

        I’d most certainly agree with you. That’s what scientists are experts on. Not sociology.

        I think a scientific viewpoint probably does (often) predispose towards an egalitarian, leftist view, but IMO adding a mountain of sociological baggage to a scientific protest just runs the risk of swamping the scientific issues. Let the sociologists organise their own march (which I would entirely be in favour of).

        cr

        1. I think there’s also no need to try and stuff every good issue into every event. If we need to have ten marches to get through all the bad policies this administration may support, then we have ten marches. I would fully support a march on GLBT issues, and another on economic justice and poverty. But they aren’t really directly science issues. This is kind of like trying to teach math in a history class; math is an important subject that everyone should know and care about, but it’s not history. And even though math is an important subject, its perfectly okay to have a class or two that doesn’t focus on math.

          1. Yes I entirely agree with that, and with luck two (or mor) separate marches on coherent issues would have more total visibility than one march which can be pigeonholed as ‘all the usual malcontents’ by Drumpf’s crew.

            cr

    1. And we’ll solve our nuclear waste problems by dropping it into the middle of Iowan cornfields where it’ll make the crops grow super size! Its a twofer.

  10. One of my deepest concerns is that objective data will stop being publicly available. Imagine, for example, if NIH can only update GenBank or other databases if the data and analysis pass government review.

    I thought this would happen first with data from the OMB and BLS. But given the anti-science attitudes around us, perhaps I was overly optimistic that it would start with economics and probably not hit science.

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