His signature Sharpie pen – the same one he uses to sign his incessant Executive Orders – extended the cone of uncertainty for Hurricane Dorian in a crude bulge on the map to embrace Alabama. The National Weather Service immediately issued a correction that Alabama was not in the storm’s path. In fact, the Pentagon designated Alabama as its “safe haven” for storing its assets to ride out the storm.
Trump was furious at being contradicted and began a signature media campaign to show he was right – but to little avail. Last week, his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reportedly threatened to fire every political employee in the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration – the parent agency for the Weather Service – if NOAA did not issue a statement backing Trump up.
That action has sparked a revolt in the hallways of NOAA. Assistant Administrator Craig McLean, who is also NOAA’s lead scientist, sent out an all-employee email declaring:
“My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political.”
Like his manic effort to induce the National Park Service to inflate his inauguration crowd size, this farce speaks volumes not only about Trump but also the extent of political pressure – naked, undisguised bullying – brought to bear on scientists and other public servants.
It also shines a light on how a normally non-political NOAA is being manipulated. Right now, PEER has a growing docket of NOAA cases, most revolving around political pressure forcing the suppression or alteration of science, including cases involving marine life ranging from anchovies to right whales.
What is clear is that NOAA professional staff have no institutional checks anymore to deflect inappropriate intrusion into decision-making. An indelible lesson of the Trump tenure is that the executive branch cannot be relied upon to police its own accuracy. We need new legal tools.
PEER is the only organization dedicated to rendering direct aid needed for embattled scientists to serve the public. Our mission has never been more vital.
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