More than 120 scientists across seven federal agencies say they
have been pressured to remove references to "climate change" and
"global warming" from a range of documents, including press releases
and communications with Congress. Roughly the same number say
appointees altered the meaning of scientific findings on climate
contained in communications related to their research.
These findings, part of a new report compiled by two watchdog
groups, shed new light on complaints by a scattering of scientists
over the past year who have publicly complained that Bush
administration appointees have tried to mute or muzzle what
researchers have to say about global warming.
"We are beyond the anecdotal," says Francesca Grifo, director of
the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned
Scientists (UCS), one of the two groups, referring to press reports
of a dozen instances of interference that have emerged over the past
12 months. "We now have evidence to support the view that this
problem goes deeper than just these few high-profile cases."
Global-warming science must be accurately represented to enable
lawmakers to craft adequate policies to control the problem and
adapt to climate change, Dr. Grifo says. Scientists at the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies working on climate-
related issues are doing excellent work. "But it's under threat, and
they are struggling to get their results out" to the general public,
Grifo described some of the report's findings during hearings
Tuesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government
Reform and during a press briefing afterward. The two groups say
they will release additional material next week, when the Senate
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation holds similar
On the eve of 'consensus' report
The hearings and the new report come as climate scientists from
around the world have gathered in Paris to put the finishing touches
on a comprehensive "state of the science" report on global warming.
The volume is a "consensus" document that summarizes the past five
years of peer-reviewed research on the subject and is set for
Meanwhile, Congress is considering several pieces of legislation
that would impose controls on industrial carbon-dioxide emissions -
blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to the
noticeable warming effect on the earth's climate.
The question is not so much about federal scientists' ability to
publish their results in specialized journals that few but their
colleagues read, the report's authors say. Instead, the trouble
arises when agencies translate "journalese" into language the
general public or lawmakers can grasp for use in official government
reports or media releases.
The UCS is an environmental group with a longstanding interest in
the politicization of science. The other watchdog group behind the
report, the Government Accountability Project (GAP), supports strong
protections for whistleblowers.
Their report combines a written survey the UCS gave to 1,600
scientists (of which 279 responded) with in-depth interviews GAP
held with some 40 scientists and officials, such as agency press
officers. GAP also pored over thousands of pages of documents
gathered via the Freedom of Information Act, says Tarek Maassari, a
staff attorney with the group.
Sometimes scientists and career public-affairs officers would
send press releases related to global warming up the ladder for
review, then never hear back. Or appointees changed the wording in
ways that scientists felt distorted the results or their
implications, and the researchers weren't given a chance to argue
their case. One of the most blatant examples focuses on the issue of
hurricanes and global warming. …