Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Government climate scientists are apparently complaining they have been “gagged”, that they aren’t able to speak out about their results. My question – why do they think they are special?
It’s Never Been Harder to Be a Climate Scientist
Legal attacks, internet harassment, and a Trump-fueled “culture of fear” are making their work more difficult than ever.
BY EMILY ATKIN
One month before President Donald Trump was sworn into office, the climate scientist Michael Mann wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post about the time someone sent a letter filled with fake anthrax to his office. The August 2010 scare, he recalled, was “just one in a long series of threats I’ve received since the late 1990s, when my research illustrated the unprecedented nature of global warming.” Things had gotten better in recent years, he wrote—no more anonymous mail with potential bio-weaponry, no more personal investigations by congressional committees, and far fewer death threats. But with Trump’s inauguration imminent, he wrote, “my colleagues and I are steeling ourselves for a renewed onslaught of intimidation, from inside and outside government.”
Climate scientists working directly for the Trump administration are the most affected. A report published last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists describes a “culture of fear” as government scientists are gagged, sidelined, or fired, and funding cuts loom. “Some are afraid to utter the words ‘climate change,’” the report reads. The fear has pushed some agency scientists to seek advice from outside sources. Lauren Kurtz, executive director at the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, says several federal climate scientists have asked her about their legal options for speaking out. “One researcher just called to say hey, my boss has made it really hard for me to do my job. What can I do?” she said.
Kurtz is also dealing with a problem that has existed for years: lawsuits filed by conservative groups against non-government climate scientists seeking their private communications. And just generally, Kurtz said she’s hearing from more private climatologists worried about the future of their grant funding, or the backlash they might receive from empowered internet trolls if they choose to publicly criticize against cuts that would effect their work. “It’s definitely become a more stressful profession,” Kurtz said. “Long-term, there’s room for optimism. But right now—especially when you factor in things like potential funding cuts and dealing with harassment, yes, it has become more difficult to be a climate scientist.”
How did government employed climate scientists ever get the idea that their job is to spend taxpayer’s money and publicly criticise government policy?
What other government employees get to do this?
I have no problem with public statements from climate scientists who raise their own money – they can say whatever they want. But the job of an employee of the government is to do what the government tells them to do. For a government employed scientist, surely this means researching what the government asks them to research, and submitting reports to the government agencies which commissioned the research – not grandstanding in front of the media on a regular basis.
If a government employee discovers a risk so serious they feel compelled to make a public statement criticising their employer, I understand and respect that. But employees who publicly criticise the boss on a regular basis have no right to expect job security.