An escalation of Trump’s attacks on government science

Gretchen Goldman at the Union of Concerned Scientists blog has a blistering piece on Trump’s outrageous interference with NOAA.

The mission of the National Weather Service is to provide “weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.” And its hard-working employees work around the clock in offices around the country to ensure the weather is forecast, and lives are saved. Yet, today is a dark day: These dedicated public servants were thrown under the bus by their own leaders simply for implementing this very mission.

It’s not just one more Trump on Twitter drama.

The National Weather Service is responsible for saving countless lives. Its weather watches and warnings, along with ongoing communication with the public, keeps people out of harm’s way. People are able to avoid or prepare for tornadoes, hurricanes, heatwaves, and flood waters thanks to the dedicated experts in the National Weather Service who track severe weather into the night, sometimes even sleeping at the office to ensure they don’t miss a forecast.

I check in on the Seattle branch often, and they warn us to take cover whenever lightning is in the forecast.

National Weather Service employees are keeping people safe across the country every hour of every day. They are in constant communication with the public through social media, TV, radio, and even answering phone calls directly from members of the public. The Birmingham Alabama office was simply fulfilling this crucial mission last week when it tweeted out that (contrary to the President’s assertion) Alabama would not be in the path of Hurricane Dorian. Yet the administration—and now NOAA leadership itself—is acting as if this was a criminal act.

As if it were an attack on the president and as if that were all-important while people’s actual physical safety didn’t matter at all. The god-emperor’s amour-propre is all, the people are mere dust!

This move is an escalation of the president’s attacks on government science. It is no secret that President Trump hasn’t respected the science and scientists at federal agencies. In fact, our work has tracked more than a hundred examples of misuses of science under President Trump and our survey of scientists at 16 federal agencies found that many were being censored, ignored, and left out of crucial conversations. But this move takes the problem to new heights. The work of the National Weather Service has been historically apolitical. Weather forecasting, after all, is crucial to the whole country, all people, and all commercial activities. But here we see NOAA leadership trade scientific integrity for political appeasement.

In the service of Trump’s vanity, and nothing more significant than that.

It takes a lot for the National Weather Service to build up trust from the public and this work is crucial for saving lives and property. When people don’t believe the messenger, they won’t leave even when a threat is eminent. The National Weather Service has worked hard to build its reputation locally and nationally. The administration and NOAA leadership tore that down yesterday in one shameful memo.

Because Trump’s vanity matters more.

This is not the first time the Trump Administration has intimidated federal agencies for science-based social media posts. In 2017, the Trump Administration flew the Joshua Tree National Park social media manager all the way to DC so he could be publicly chastised for tweeting about climate change, a topic very relevant and important for an ecosystem like that of Joshua Tree National Park. We know from federal scientist surveys that scientists can do their job better when their leaders support scientific integrity. NOAA leaders just proved they aren’t up to that task.

But Trump’s vanity.

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