This New Hotline Makes It Easier to Report Scientific Wrongdoing Under The Trump Administration

It's time for government scientists to blow the whistle.

6 NOV 2017

Speak Out For Science is a new website that makes it easier and safer to report scientific wrongdoing under the Trump Administration. When the organization's hotline blings, it can only mean one thing: a government scientist is ready to whistle blow.


Under the current administration, the future of science in America looks bleak. The Paris Accord is a thing of the past, environmental regulations like the Clean Power Plan are set to be repealed, and references to climate change have been scraped from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website. Just recently, the EPA cancelled a climate change presentation by three agency scientists at a conference in Rhode Island. 

So, the obvious question is: If this is happening out in the open, what the heck is going on behind closed doors? 

That's exactly what 314 Action, a nationwide pro-science non-profit, wants to find out. Last week, the organization unveiled their Scientific Integrity Whistleblower Project, which provides legal support to government agency scientists that feel the need to speak out for science.

Their website, SpeakOutForScience.org, provides several secure and anonymous avenues for federally-employed scientists to blow the whistle on malfeasance and scientific censorship at the EPA, NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

Already, the organization has let 30,000 scientists know about the initiative.

"This administration does not seem to be very receptive to facts and evidence. But what we can't allow is for them to silence scientists or intimidate federal employees," said the founder of 314 Action and former scientist Shaugnessy Naughton.


"We need to be giving folks all the tools available to combatting that." 

Legal matters are notoriously difficult to navigate - especially if your background is in science and not law. Luckily, law firm Garvey Schubert Barer has partnered with 314 Action to provide pro bono legal advice to scientists that wish to whistle blow.

The law generally provides whistleblower protections for governmental scientists that disclose information about censorship, gross mismanagement, violation of the law, abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. Although, it's not always that straight forward. The law can vary depending on which agency scientists are employed at and what non-disclosure agreements they may have signed.

"We want to make sure that if scientists are concerned about things, they are doing it in a legal way," said Naughton.

The website offers several encrypted, secure channels for communication with the law firm, including Signal, WhatsApp, Email, Postal Mail and a hotline. By contacting the attorneys at Garvey Schubert Barer on one of these lines, scientists will be able to make sure that they are speaking out in the most legal way possible.


"I am hopeful that we get no responses and that these agencies behave themselves during the Trump administration but I'm just not convinced that's the case," said Naughton. 

Her fears are not unwarranted.

The Trump Administration's blatant censorship of science and scientists will inevitably lead to more leaks, says the executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Jeff Ruch. 

"Simply put, administration attempts to manipulate science to fit its official talking points will inescapably fail, automatically be leaked and subject your White House to a daily drip-drip-drip of bad, off-message news coverage," Ruch wrote in a letter to President Trump in January.

And the leaks are already happening.

Just this summer, Joel Clement, a former top climate policy official at the Department of Interior blew the whistle because he was worried the Trump administration was putting public health and safety at risk. He says the administration is purposefully silencing scientists, like himself, for publicly disclosing how climate change affects Alaska Native communities.

"I filed the complaint because the Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger," Clement said.

"Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act."

More recently, in August, a group of federal scientists leaked the draft of a comprehensive climate change report to the press. Given the President's outspoken stance on climate change, the scientists involved were fearful that the report would be suppressed. So they decided to make it public before anyone in the White House had the chance to alter or approve it.

The move was met with criticism by the White House, but was celebrated by many scientists and concerned members of the public.

Those who support scientific integrity, can only hope that initiatives like Speak Out For Science will encourage more government employees to stand up and put a stop to the all-out war on science before it gets any worse.

The leaks are coming. Drip. Drip. Drip.