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Team Trump directly censors climate science statement

May 22nd, 2017 · No Comments

The US Geological Service issued a press release last Friday on an article/study about the threats sea-level rise create for US coasts, In Next Decades, Frequency of Coastal Flooding Will Double Globally.

Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding

Those words did not appear in the above-linked USGS press release — though they were in the press release’s draft.

“It’s a crime against the American people,” Neil Frazer, a geophysics professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa and one of the study’s co-authors, said of the line’s removal and of other efforts to limit scientific communication from federal agencies. “Because scientists have known for at least 50 years that anthropogenic climate change is a reality.”

He added: “The suppression of this information is a scandal.”

There are numerous stories of interest and concern here:

As to the last, I tweeted this last Thursday about the press release:

My tweet was after seeing this:

I then shared the material with a range of climate scientists and communicators alongs with people specifically focused on sea-level rise (SLR).

From rather well-known, extremely knowledgeable, PhD expert, strong (even strident) climate hawk, the note:

The release is not shy about talking about sea level rise and SLR projections. It’s certainly possible that USGS edited out a mention of climate change, but  it equally possible that it was just a incidental omission.

After all, the actual study directly comments on climate change in its first paragraph:

From a Director of a significant scientific institution, the note included (removing some potentially identifying information):

I don’t believe that there is any Trump influence on their writing and believe that they are all first rate scientists who are probably more focused on the immediate science of future sea-level rise rather than diving into climate change issues.

Neither of these people are anything close to Team Trump devotees.

Both are serious experts — in science and even in sea-level rise.

Both are well-aware of Bush Administration science censorship.

Both have expressed concerns about Trump’s lack of science knowledge and Team Trump’s anti-science passions/science denial.

Yet both were reticent, in private communication, to even suggest that they thought this was a situation of censorship.

They knew the ‘first-rate scientist’ authors and did not want, I suppose, to see the insidious hand of climate-denial censorship impacting those ‘first-rate scientists’.

Here is a situation where

  • those “first rate scientist” authors were (see that Post story) willing (anxious even) to talk publicly about the censorship.
    • Note that their jobs are likely not on the line and, within their professional environments, they might actually ‘gain’ due to speaking out publicly rather than risk ‘losing their jobs’/hurting their status.
  • the censorship was obvious simply through reading the piece —
    • just reading the press release made one wonder why ‘climate change’ wasn’t there in a sentence or two for context about SLR.
  • the censorship did not impact the actual substance —
    • that SLR is accelerating and will lead to more coastal flooding.

Not hard to imagine situations where:

  • People fear that they might lose their jobs and are reticent about speaking out;
  • The censorship is more insidious and hidden, harder to discern; and,
  • The censorship impacts the actual substance and conclusions, turning science into pseudo-science or actual science denial.

As to the above interlocutors, on sharing The Washington Post confirmation of the censorship, one hasn’t (yet…) responded and the other got back to me with a simple:

You were right!

I really wish that I had been wrong.



UPDATE:  Is this ‘how’ the Post reporter found the key to getting the details?

So my husband came home this week pretty shaken up. And if any of you know Patrick, he is the most mellow guy ever. It takes a LOT to rile him.

To back up a second, let me just say (in case you don’t know), Patrick works for the US Geological Survey. In other words, he’s a federal employee.

Part of the year, Patrick drives an ATV along our California shorelines, taking data points of the sand. He and his team also drive jet skis in the surf zone in a grid-like pattern, taking more measurements of the sand below the water. He has a team of a dozen employees and is the research director of the Climate Impacts program.

So let’s get to what happened this week. A paper where Patrick wrote about his findings published. Nothing new there. He and his co-authors have been writing papers for over a decade, monitoring the shores so that we as a community can better protect the beaches and structures along the water (including airports, sanitation facilities, etc., etc.). But along the way, in his pursuit to monitor beach patterns, there’s been a distinct finding that sea level is rising and beaches are eroding–not a belief, but an actual fact he and other scientists from around the world can confirm through scores of data.

Keep in mind, Patrick’s been at the USGS for almost 14 years. Which means, he’s worked beneath the Bush, Obama, and now the Trump administrations. But here’s what’s different.

Never in the history of his career at the USGS has the government insisted on removing a phrase from a press release for one of his papers. Basically, the press release would NOT be released by the government with the phrase still in there.

What was the phrase you ask? Here’s the sentence:

“Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding.”

The Department of the Interior removed the phrase “Climate change.” The first thing I though of was censorship. This administration doesn’t believe in climate change, so they removed the language from the press release. But that wasn’t the most disconcerting thing.

For every major paper Patrick’s authored or co-authored, he’s received dozens of phone interviews, and been interviewed on NPR and through local news stations to talk about the findings. Because this is important stuff, right? And reporters want to share with the community new findings so we can be more prepared as a community.

How many reporters called him after the government said they sent the press release to hundreds of reporters for the NATURE paper, one of the worlds biggest journals on the environment?


Not one.

I think that’s weird. And kinda scary.

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Tags: Sea Level Rise · Trump Administration