Do Trump authorities censor their researchers?

Press releases on climate change studies are suppressed or rewritten

US authorities appear to be increasingly hindering the publication of study results on climate change and its consequences © Eric Falco / iStock
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Muzzling for researchers: The climate-skeptical attitude of the US government is now also influencing the science communication, as reports suggest. Accordingly, several US authorities have actively suppressed or changed press releases on climate change studies of their own researchers. Although scientific studies continue to be conducted, they receive less attention without press releases.

The fact that US President Donald Trump knows little about climate change and climate change is obvious at the latest after his resignation from the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition, since taking office in January 2017, he has held senior positions in the Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture, as well as in other authorities with more industry-friendly, climate skeptics.

March for Science: Triggered by Donald Trump's skepticism about science, thousands of people in the US and other countries have been protesting for the freedom of science as early as 2017. © Becker1999 / CC-by-sa 2.0

Scientific integrity at risk?

But what are the consequences for the scientific work of these authorities? Until now, the official side has always said that there is no directive to avoid or suppress unpleasant topics such as climate change. Similar promise also James Reilly, 2018 by Trump appointed director of the US Geological Survey (USGS). "I am committed to scientific integrity, " he emphasized. "If someone comes and says I should change something for political reasons, then I would politely decline."

The reality, however, is different, as reports from Science Magazine, the New York Times and the magazine Politico suggest. According to this, press releases on studies by climate researchers on climate change were withheld or changed in several authorities so that the term climate change no longer appears. "It was made clear to us that we should no longer use this term in our press releases, " a scientist reported.

The Rice Study and the USDA

A blatant example is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). There, according to research by the magazine Politico in recent years dozens of unpleasant studies have been kept in-house by the press releases were denied or held back. Among other things, a study on the effects of rising CO2 levels on the ingredients of rice - after all, the staple food for more than one billion people - was affected. display

The study, published in May 2019 in the journal Science Advances, came to the conclusion that by the end of the century, rice will contain between 13 and 30 percent less B vitamins and 10 percent less protein if CO2 levels continue to rise. As the universities of most of the researchers involved published a press release, the USDA refused, and even tried to stop the University of Washington from publishing it, as did a press officer the university reports. Allegedly, the data is not sufficient and the result is countervailable, according to the USDA.

USGS: climate impacts without climate change

Another blatant case is reported by journalist Scott Waldmann in E & E News. In a study published in March 2019 in the journal Scientific Reports, US researchers analyzed the effects of climate change on the coast of California using a new model. The study found that by 2100, more than $ 150 billion of property in California every year will affect property values ​​- six percent of California's gross domestic product - and 600, 000 people will be affected by flooding from rising sea levels and rising levels of heat,

However, the press release submitted by the researchers was greatly changed by the USGS press office. The reference to climate change was removed from the title and the communication rewritten to focus on the methodology and the "useful planning results for different scenarios". Not a word of the serious consequences of climate change for the California economy.

And this is not an isolated case, as Waldmann reports: In the last year of the Obama administration, the USGS published 13 press releases that were already covered in the title on climate change. Since then, however, from 2017 to the beginning of 2019, the term climate change has not appeared in a single communication title by the authorities.

"An insult to science"

"It's an insult to science, but it's also an affront to the people who need this information and who depend on it for their livelihood and sometimes their lives, " says the former US employee. Interior Ministry Joel Clement in E & E News. "It is shocking that even information that is essential to the economy, health and safety is in principle reset and hidden."

Although the Trump government does not seem to block the scientific studies on such "unpleasant" topics. However, by preventing the results from being publicized or censoring the press releases, it interferes with science communication and restricts researchers' freedom.

"We are quite aware of the political pressure, " says a researcher working at a state institute towards Waldmann. When it comes to writing press releases or drafting project proposals, you are already thinking very hard about using the word climate change or not.

Source: Science Magazine, E & E News, Politico

- Nadja Podbregar