Has the White House Interfered on Global Warming Reports? ; A New Report Claims the Administration Has Suppressed Scientists' Climate-Change Work

By Peter N. Spotts writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 31, 2007 | Go to article overview

Has the White House Interfered on Global Warming Reports? ; A New Report Claims the Administration Has Suppressed Scientists' Climate-Change Work


Peter N. Spotts writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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, she says.

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 hearings.

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 release Friday.

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. …

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