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10 Times The Trump Administration Has Blatantly Silenced Science

Science not silence.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
10 NOV 2017
 

The Trump administration has made it clear that it is no friend of science. Under the current administration, climate change is dismissed as a hoax, scientific research isn't worth funding and environmental regulations that protect public health are considered federal overreach. Many of these steps are unprecedented. For instance, Donald Trump has waited longer than any modern President to appoint a Chief Science advisor.

 

With all the bad news, it can be hard to keep track of everything this administration has done to silence scientists and scientific research. But keeping track has never been more important.

Luckily, we have laid it all out for you in a simple - but terrifying - listicle.

1. That time the EPA cancelled a presentation on climate change.

In October, the EPA cancelled a climate change presentation by three agency scientists at a conference in Rhode Island. The three scientists were set to reveal their research on the state of the Narragansett Bay and Watershed program in Providence. That is - until they were inexplicably ordered not to.

"EPA scientists are attending, they simply are not presenting. It is not an EPA conference," EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said in a statement.

But according to the program director Thomas Borden, the three EPA scientists that were banned from speaking at the conference had contributed substantial elements to the report. In other words, they had something important to say.

"It's definitely a blatant example of the scientific censorship we all suspected was going to start being enforced at EPA," said John King, who chairs the science advisory committee of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program.

 

"They don't believe in climate change, so I think what they're trying to do is stifle discussions of the impacts of climate change."

Read more about it here.

2. That time the EPA jettisoned science advisors from their advisory boards.

In October, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt made an unprecedented move. He banned any scientist who had received an agency grant from serving on the EPA's advisory boards. As a result, half a dozen scientists and academics were stripped of their advisory positions.

"What's most important at the agency is to have scientific advisers that are objective, independent-minded, providing transparent recommendations," Pruitt said.

"If we have individuals who are on those boards, sometimes receiving money from the agency . . . that to me causes questions on the independence and the veracity and the transparency of those recommendations that are coming our way."

Yet Pruitt has no such hang-up when it comes to industry conflicts-of-interest. In fact, the decision does not block industry experts from serving on these advisory boards. In light of this, many critics are worried Pruitt will stack the boards with industry experts instead of independent scientists.

 

Terry Yosie, who directed the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) under the Reagan administration, said that Pruitt's decision represents "a major purge of independent scientists and a decision to sideline the SAB from major EPA decision-making in the future."

Read more about it here.

3. That time the Interior Department halted a health study on coal-mining.

In August, the Interior Department ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to stop work on a study that examined the health risks of mountain-top removal coal-mining. The study was requested after some research revealed that people who live near these coal mines suffered more from birth defects, cancer and other illnesses.

Hours before the researchers were set to meet with the affected residents, the Interior Deparment ordered them not to continue. The Department claimed that the study needed to be shut down because of an agencywide budgetary review. The excuse seems especially feeble when it comes from an administration that has declared an end to the "war on coal."

"Mountaintop removal mining has been shown to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other medical problems," said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

 

"Stopping this study is a ploy to stop science in its tracks and keep the public in the dark about health risks as a favor to the mining industry, pure and simple."

Read more about it here.

4. That time the Interior Department banned two of Glacier National Park's climate experts from showing Zuckerberg around.

In July, just two days before Mark Zuckerberg was set to visit Glacier National Park, the Interior Department stopped two climate experts from giving the Facebook CEO a tour.

Daniel Fagre, a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey, was one of those experts that was told the tour was off.

"I literally was told I would no longer be participating," said Fagre. And when he asked why, he received no answer.

"We've definitely been left in the dark," he added.

Read more about it here.

5. That time a science advisor was reassigned to an accounting job.

In June, senior science advisor Joel Clement received a letter informing him that he had been involuntarily reassigned at the Interior Department. In his previous position, Clement was in charge of helping endangered communities in Alaska prepare for climate change. The reassignment placed him in the accounting office, which collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.

A few days after Clement's reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments to eliminate employees. After hearing the remarks, Clement decided to quit and blow the whistle on the Trump Administration.

"I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities," said Clement.

"During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a UN conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government."

Read more about it here.

6. That time the Interior Department halted the work of 200 advisory boards.

In May, the Interior Department froze the work of more than 200 advisory boards, committees and subcommittees. Nearly a third of those advisory boards were science-based.

The department claimed that the boards were frozen to review "the charter and charge of each committee."

"We haven't dismissed anyone," an official told CNN.

"We have postponed meetings and work for these advisory boards so the secretary (Ryan Zinke) can assess whether they are achieving their purpose."

But not everyone was convinced by this excuse. Director for the Center for Science and Democracy Andrew Rosenburg said he is concerned the current administration is attempting to politicize the advisory process.

"Scientific advisory boards are a direct extension of the independent peer review process that has served science well for decades," said Rosenberg.

"So the community should not only embrace the use of these boards, but advocate for their independence from political influence fiercely."

Read more about it here.

7. That time the EPA inexplicably fired half of its science advisors.

In May, the EPA removed half of the advisors on its Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC). All of the board members who were up for their second term were told that their contracts would not be renewed, though many of them claimed they had been assured a second term.

"I've never heard of any circumstance where someone didn't serve two consecutive terms," said one of the dismissed members and ecological economist Robert Richardson.

The BOSC is responsible for reviewing the work of scientists at the EPA, and offering advice on future research. As such, it is fundamental to the EPA's mission. But with so few members, all of the subcomittee meetings for late summer and fall were cancelled. And, according to an EPA spokesperson, the committees will not reconvene until 2018. This means that for half a year, the EPA will be working without the BOSC's input.

"The role that science has played in the agency in the past, this step is a significant step in a different direction," said Richardson.

"Anecdotally, based on what we know about the administrator, I think it will be science that will appear to be friendlier to industry, the fossil fuel industry, the chemical industry, and I think it will be science that marginalizes climate change science."

Read more about it here.

8. That time the Justice Department ended their forensic science commission.

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, which is an advisory panel made up of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Several commission members warned against the decision, arguing that it is just another attempt by the Trump administration to diminish the role of science and independent scientists in policymaking.

Six leading research scientists on the commission were compelled to write a letter to the White House, voicing their disapproval.

"For too long, decisions regarding forensic science have been made without the input of the research science community," they wrote.

"Limiting the 'relevant scientific community' to forensic practitioners is a disservice to that field and to the criminal justice system," they added.

Read more about it here.

9. That time the EPA scrubbed all references to climate change from its website.

In April, the EPA announced that their website would be "undergoing changes" to represent the new direction of the agency. The agency proceeded to remove content from several pages that explain what climate change is and how it can be tackled. For instance, a page that provided information about the Clean Power Plan was completely removed.

"The EPA's climate site includes important summaries of climate science and indicators that clearly and unmistakably explain and document the impacts we are having on our planet," said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University.

"It's hard to understand why facts require revision," she added.

It's not just the EPA, either. From the Department of Energy and the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Transportation and the Interior Department, references to climate change are being invariably deleted or altered.

"Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence," said Victoria Herrman, who reported that Arctic data sets were being deleted from government websites.

Even now, the website overhaul continues.

Read more about it here.

10. That time the EPA refused to ban an insecticide with adverse public health impacts.

In March, Scott Pruitt blatantly disregarded the scientific conclusion of his own agency. After reviewing the data, EPA chemical safety experts recommended that the agency ban all use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos because of its adverse public health effects.

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most commonly used insecticides in the US. In 2000, it was banned from use in the household, but to this day it is still being used on a whopping 40,000 farms. Thanks in part to research from Columbia University, EPA scientists concluded that exposure to the chemical could result in memory and learning difficulties among farm workers and young children.

But scientific evidence has never been enough for Pruitt.

"We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment," Mr. Pruitt said in his statement.

"By reversing the previous administration's steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results."

Experts disagree. Jim Jones, who ran the chemical safety unit at the EPA for five years, believes the science is clear. He says Pruitt's decision is putting farm workers and children at unnecessary risk.

"We have a law that requires the EPA to ban pesticides that it cannot determine are safe, and the EPA has repeatedly said this pesticide is not safe," said Patti Goldman, managing attorney at Earthjustice.

Read more about it here