WASHINGTON – An alliance of scientists said Tuesday the U.S. government is stifling federal scientists' research into sensitive climate information.
In a conference call news conference,the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project discussed a study of 1,600 scientists in seven federal agencies. The investigation found 435 instances of political interference in the scientists' work over the last five years.
“Our investigation found high-quality science struggling to get out,” said Francesca Grifo,director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“Political interference is harming federal science and threatening the health and safety of Americans,” she said.
The agencies employing most of the scientists polled were the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,the U.S. Geologic Survey and the U.S. departments of Energy,Agriculture and Defense.
The report also surveyed scientists who are not federal employees but work at the federally funded National Center for Atmospheric Research. These scientists reported fewer instances of interference.
The interference cited in the report includes censorship,suppression of scientific information,manipulation of scientific advice and disseminating false information.
“There's a generally increasing trend,new policies being crafted that got more onerous through the late ‘90s up until 2005,” said Tarek Maassarani,staff attorney at the Government Accountability Project.
“There's a lot of circumstantial evidence to believe that some kind of political interest is replacing” sound scientific practice,Maassarani said. “As a result,communication of scientific information has been compromised.”
A White House representative rebuffed claims of information manipulation,saying the president made clear his commitment to energy progress in his State of the Union Address last week,pledging to cut gasoline use by 20 percent in the next 10 years.
“We have in place the most transparent system of science reporting,and claims that the administration interferes with science are false,” said Kristen Hellmer,spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Hellmer also noted that the Bush administration backs climate science to the tune of $2 billion annually,the highest level of monetary support for the field anywhere in the world.
The report cites several examples of what the two groups said was government interference in climate science.
In June 2005,former U.S. Climate Change Science Program senior associate Rick Piltz resigned in protest over White House edits to a climate change report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program,according to the groups' report.
“The National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change” contained the climate change program's 2003 strategic plan,but government discussion of climate change omitted reference to that plan,the investigation said.
Piltz's letter is excerpted in the report. It called the efforts against him “politicization by the White House,” and said such efforts “undermine the credibility and integrity of the program in its relationship to the research community,to program managers and to the public interest.”
Several reports of censorship involved NASA.
Drew Shindell,a climatologist and ozone specialist at NASA who has been outspoken on climate change,said he never experienced political interference in his work until 2004,when he sent a proposed press release to headquarters with the title,”Cool Antarctica may warm rapidly.”
He was asked to soften the title and proposed,”Study suggests Antarctic flip-flop,” but the press office still was not satisfied.
“Quite out of character from the past,now headquarters imposed their own title,‘Scientists predict Antarctic climate change,'” he said,adding that the title was a “watered-down” version of the original.
When he asked about the revision,he was given an answer that he said had “no paper trail.” Instead,it just “came down from above.”
“Political appointees in the White House were now reviewing all climate-related press releases,” he said he was told.
Shindell also cited interference at NASA,including a requirement that a press officer be present at scientists' interviews and demands to see scientific presentations before they were given at meetings.
Last year,The New York Times reported that James Hansen,NASA's top climate scientist,accused the government of attempting to silence his assertions about global warming.
It began,the Times reported,after Hansen gave a lecture in December 2005 advocating cutbacks on emissions of greenhouse gases that he claimed lead to global warming.
In addition to NASA,the Union of Concerned Scientists' and the Governmental Accountability Project's report says the White House removed a section on climate control from the EPA's 2002 air pollution report,although the topic had been in the report the five previous years.
Grifo said she would not speculate about the administration's motive,but she said when politics interferes with research,she often sees “commercial interests or ideology bump up against science.”
She called the influence of the federal government on its scientists “more pervasive,more intrusive,” and said she sees federal “authority creeping deeper and deeper into an agency” than in the past.
“Congress must act to protect scientists that speak out,” she said. Before the news conference,representatives of the two groups testified about the report at a hearing on Capitol Hill.