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Science under threat, as Trump demands lists of climate science workers

censorshipA dark time is coming to American climate science

Trump questionnaire recalls dark history of ideology-driven science, Skeptical Science 21 December 2016 by By Paul N. Edwards, Professor of Information and History, 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.

On Dec. 13, a DoE spokesperson told the Washington Post the agency will not provide individual names to the transition team, saying “We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department.”……..

An ideologically driven purge?

The Trump questionnaire harks back to the McCarthyist “red scare” of the early 1950s, when congressional committees and the FBI hounded eminent scientists accused of communist leanings…….

A much broader ideology-based attack on learning occurred in 1930s Germany, when the Nazis purged universities of Jewish and left-leaning scholars. Many German Jewish scientists emigrated to the United States. Ironically, the work of those immigrants in this country led to a massive increase in patent filings in their primary fields of science.

The Soviet Union had one of the worst histories of purging scientists whose work was considered ideologically impure………

Climate science in the U.S. has already been targeted by government administrators. The George W. Bush administration of the 2000s literally rewrote scientific reports to weaken their findings on global warming.

In 2007 testimony, former officials of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) admitted to extensive editing of documents from the EPA and many other agencies “to exaggerate or emphasize scientific uncertainties or to deemphasize or diminish the importance of the human role in global warming.” And when scientists’ views conflicted with the administration’s official line that global warming science remained uncertain, the CEQ often denied them permission to speak with reporters.

Worries over dismissal or intimidation

The highly targeted nature of the Trump questionnaire – especially the requested lists of individual scientists and leaders – suggests preparations for another ideologically driven purge.

On the day it was revealed by Bloomberg, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) sent Trump a letter warning him that “an illegal modern-day political witch hunt” would create “a profoundly chilling impact on our dedicated federal workforce.” Thus far, it appears the Trump administration has not responded to media queries on the questionnaire.

. …….the incoming administration might indulge in large-scale summary dismissals, program cancellations and moving entire portfolios, not only at the DoE but also at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, private and corporate-sponsored intimidation campaigns against individual climate scientists – underway since the 1990s, and often backed by the fossil fuel industry – will surely gain momentum and scope. An administration that directly attacks science and scientists will amplify them enormously.

It’s worth noting that despite considerable differences on regulatory policy, every president from Nixon and Carter in the 1970s to Bush and Obama in the 2000s supported the scientific work needed to discover, understand and mitigate climate change.

Basic research on energy, pollution and climate change – much of it carried out at DoE laboratories – is essential to clear-eyed policy, which must be based on solid knowledge of the true costs and benefits of all forms of energy.

The Department of Energy’s response

The Trump questionnaire violates American political norms by targeting individual civil service employees, many of whom have worked for the agency for decades through multiple changes of administration.

It strongly suggests that even if incoming administrators do not target individuals for retribution, these appointees will attempt to delete climate change from the roster of energy-related scientific issues…….

A dark time is coming to American climate science. Trump’s mob of climate change deniers has begun its march on our present-day observatories. …..

December 24, 2016 - Posted by | civil liberties, climate change, USA

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