Federal scientists are on edge over political interference with their publications, according to some of their colleagues in the academic world.
“The federal scientists I know are looking over their shoulders on work that might bear on climate change issues,” said Portland State University geology professor Andrew Fountain, who’s collaborated with U.S. Geological Survey experts on glacier studies at Glacier National Park. “It makes them nervous.”
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that executives in the Interior Department scrutinized a USGS report on glacier melting for “inflammatory adverbs and adjectives” after its news release stated, “The warming climate has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, some by as much as 85 percent.”
The Post obtained a chain of emails from Interior Assistant Secretary of Insular Areas Doug Domenech to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Cameron and others critiquing the release. On May 10, 2017, Domenech wrote that the news release was “a perfect example of them going outside their wheelhouse.”
Cameron replied, “They probably are relying on the percentages but the most basic point is we need to watch for inflammatory adverbs and adjectives in their press releases.”
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Interior science policy analyst Indur Goklany added, “I could also make the argument that it’s not clear that tourism would necessarily suffer since touring season may expand, and hiking may replace glacier-viewing, but that might be a secondary effect.”
A current version of the USGS study includes the sentence “The dataset shows that all glaciers have been reduced in area since 1966 with some glaciers having been reduced by as much as 85% by 2015.”
The study, by lead author Dan Fagre of USGS in West Glacier, was cited by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg as a reason he decided to visit Glacier Park last summer to observe the glaciers before they melted away.
Fagre was not allowed to brief Zuckerberg and National Park Service public affairs staff were ordered not to publicize Zuckerberg’s visit on social media on orders of political appointees of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former Montana congressman.